Category Archives: Apostolic Tradition

A partial reception history of Traditio apostolica

One of the questions I would ask of those who take a “Bradshavian” view of the development of Traditio apostolica, namely that it is the result of a series of fourth-century accretions, is how it is that so much of it is extant in other fourth-century documents, namely Testamentum Domini, Canones Hippolyti and the eighth book of Apostolic constitutions. My argument, in essence, is that the book must have been substantially complete before being reworked in these various dependent documents.

However, I confess that this does not have the force that it had when first I rehearsed it in my response to Paul Bradshaw in 2004. At the time I suggested that the proponents of the accretional view also had to explain how it came to be substantially complete in three different places at the same time, namely Syria (Testamentum Domini), Egypt (Canones Hippolyti) and Antioch (Apostolic constitutions), these being the provenances conventionally ascribed to each of these documents. However, my subsequent work, in which I have argued that Testamentum Domini and Canones Hippolyti are Asian, from somewhere in between Constantinople and Antioch, and from around the third quarter of the fourth century (thus close in time and provenance to Apostolic Constitutions), means that it is quite possible that the same recension of Traditio apostolica was extant and circulating in fourth-century Asia, probably in the second half of the century, and was reworked to produce these three derivatives. This in turn means that those who deny the third-century and Roman provenance of the final redaction of Traditio apostolica might be able to suggest a redaction in this region, in the first half or so of the fourth century.

I don’t think so, for a host of reasons, but must admit that, by virtue of being simpler, this is a more tenable position than that presented in the Bradshaw/Johnson/Phillips commentary which I criticized back in 2004.

It is, in any event, an interesting observation on the reception history of Traditio apostolica.


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Coming soon!


by | February 17, 2023 · 10:12 pm

The origin of the baptismal formula

I am happy to announce the publication of my article “The Baptismal Formula: a Search For Origins” in Ecclesia Orans 39 (2022), 391-414.

The origins of the baptismal formula found in fourth century eastern baptismal rites are explored. It is suggested that the formula originates as early as the first century in a syntactic dialogue between the candidate and the baptizer. The prayer of the candidate is subsequently transferred to the baptizer and, because it originated as a calling out by the candidate, is known as an epiklesis. The recognition that “epiklesis” in the third and fourth centuries may refer to the formula clarifies a number of aspects of the development of the baptismal rite.

Vengono esplorate le origini della formula battesimale presente nei riti battesimali orientali del IV secolo. Si suggerisce che la formula abbia origine già nel I secolo in un dialogo sintattico tra il candidato e il battezzatore. La preghiera del candidato viene successivamente trasferita al battezzatore e, poiché ha origine da un’invocazione da parte del candidato, è nota come epiklesis. Il riconoscimento che “epiklesis” nel III e IV secolo possa riferirsi alla formula chiarisce una serie di aspetti dello sviluppo del rito battesimale.

Canones Hippolyti, naturally enough, provide some evidence for the argument, as indeed does Traditio apostolica. There is some mention of Constitutiones apostolorum and a citation of the Didascalia, so we can say that this really is relevant to the blog! Towards the end I also suggest a solution to the issue of whether Didache 7.1 represents a baptismal formula.

Offprints may be supplied through the usual channels.

Disclaimer: I have no comment on goings-on in Detroit and Phoenix, or on the response from the Congregation.

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Music to my ears!

Forthcoming in Vigiliae Christianae, and available as advance publication on the Brill website, is Alex Fogleman, “The Apologetics of Mystery: The Traditio apostolica and Appeals to Pythagorean Initiation in Josephus and Iamblichus”

While the Traditio apostolica ascribed to Hippolytus has primarily been the focus of studies about authorship and dating, this unique work also has much to suggest about rhetorical presentations of catechesis in the early Christian era. Comparing the TA to Josephus’s account of the Essenes in the Judean War and Iamblichus’s account of Pythagorean initiation in De vita Pythagorica, this essay argues that the TA’s presentation of catechesis can be read as constitutive of a quasi-apologetic defense of the Hippolytan “school” during the transitional period from school Christianity to monepiscopacy during the second century. Deploying similar Pythagorean imagery to describe the process of initiation, the author/editor of the TA makes a case for the Hippolytan school as offering a true philosophical way of life.

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Oh deer! Some rambling thoughts on Christian animal sacrifice

In a conversation about something else Euthymios Rizos drew my attention to a Vita of St Athenogenes. I have now had the opportunity to read this in the edition of Pierre Maraval, La Passion inédite de S. Athénogène de Pédachthoé en Cappadoce (BHG 197b) (Brussels: Bollandistes, 1990).

What struck me most was the account of Athenogenes’ meeting a deer which he had raised; the saint promises that the deer will not be taken by hunters, but that its offspring will be offered to the glory of God each year. Subsequently we hear that a fawn is presented by its mother each year for sacrifice and consumption at the feast of the martyrs.

However, perhaps I should not be surprised; for all that we hear constantly of the cessation of animal sacrifice in Christianity (early Christians, as well as wearing open-toed sandals, being vegetarians and perhaps, UK readers will suspect, Guardian readers) the practice continued, particularly in Armenia, and continues still (see here for instance.) The surprise is that (as Andrew McGowan pointed out to me) the sacrifice should be of a deer, generally a wild animal. Canons attributed to Basil prohibit the offering of a hunted animal (see on these Fred C. Conybeare, “The Survival of Animal Sacrifices inside the Christian Church” American Journal of Theology 7 (1903), 62-90, at 79-80). But perhaps the point is that the deer on this occasion is not hunted, but is willingly offered by itself (thus I am unsure of the connection to a sacred hunt made by Franz Cumont, “L’ archevêché de Pédachtoé et le sacrifice du faon” Byzantion 6 (1931), 521-533.) However, we may also note that deer were reportedly offered by Justinian at the dedication of Hagia Sophia (at least according to a later account, on which see Kateryna Kovalchuk, “The Encaenia of St Sophia: Animal Sacrifice in a Christian Context” Scrinium 4 (2008), 161-203.)

We are frequently told that the eucharist, by becoming ritualized and by delivering food in token amounts, has lost its significance, and that it should once again take on the aspect of a meal. I do not cite extensively here, as the theme is surely familiar to all my readers, though I cannot resist referring to one contribution which suggests that, in rejection of the industrial meat-economy, the eucharist should be rediscovered as a “real vegetarian meal, and not just a token meal.” (Michael S. Northcott, “Eucharistic eating, and why many early Christians preferred fish” in Rachel Muers and David Grummet (ed.), Eating and believing: interdisciplinary perspectives on vegetarianism and theology (London: T & T Clark, 2008), 232-246, here at 243-244.) This essay exhibits such an astounding level of ignorance regarding both the early Christian eucharist and the pastoral reality of parishes that it comes as no surprise to learn that the contributor is a professor of practical theology.

In this spirit I wonder whether I might start slaughtering animals at the church door during our parish mass; such has been considered seriously elsewhere (see here and here) but I think I will leave this to the Armenians (and to other cultures still familiar with acts of slaughtering) and allow the meal-logic which is already implicit in the mass we celebrate to speak for itself. This, after all, is why we keep a eucharistic fast, as Traditio apostolica 36 already reminds us. In its original context this provision intended that the eucharistic food should be consumed first in the meal; but who would eat a meal before going for a meal?

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Why and when did Antioch adopt post-baptismal anointing?

A puzzling question in liturgical history is the date and reason for the entrée of post-baptismal anointing into the Antiochene rite. The same question may be posed of the Jerusalem rite. A good summary overall of the discussion (with bibliography) may be found in Juliette Day, The baptismal liturgy of Jerusalem: fourth and fifth-century evidence from Palestine, Syria, and Egypt (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 105-131.

I was led to think about this, without coming to any real conclusion, by reading Gregorios Ioannides, “Christian initiation in the Cypriot liturgical sources” in that remarkable collection, about which I have already posted, H. Brakmann et al. (ed.), “Neugeboren aus Wasser und Heiligem Geist”: Kölner Kolloquium zur Initiatio Christiana (Münster: Aschendorff, 2020), 273-332.

Iohannides has reference to an apocryphral vita of Heraclides, which contains a number of accounts of baptism (ed. F. Halkin, “Les actes apocryphes de Saint Héraclide de Chypre, disciple de l’Apôtre Barnabé” Analecta Bollandiana 82 (1964), 133-170.) This is indeed a valuable source for the historian of the baptismal liturgy.

I have one cavil with an otherwise excellent essay. On p279 he states: “Although there was no direct reference to the anointing with holy chrism, it can be considered to be self-evident, and to have followed right after the triple baptism in the water.” In the light of the absence of such anointing from the Antiochene rite at the time of Chrysostom I don’t think this is self-evident. He goes on: “In the case of the sailor’s baptism … indirect reference was made to the occurrence of the Holy Spirit after the baptism in the water.” In support of this assertion he cites the text thus: τῆς τοῦ Χριστοῦ σωτηρίας ἡμᾶς καταξίωσον καῖ δούλους ἡμᾶς καταξιωθῆναι αὐτοῦ (=through baptism) ποίησον καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου ἡμᾶς ἔμπλησον (= through chrismation) ἵνα εἴμεθα σύν σοί. I do not think that the text here can stand the interpretation put onto it, given the absence in the other accounts of any post-baptismal anointing. Indeed at p291 he notes architectural changes brought about in a baptistery, commenting, “The initial architecture of the main place for pre-baptismal rites and the »chrismarion« without the apse most likely reflect the Antiochian liturgical order of the bishop anointing the candidates with holy chrism not after but rather prior to the baptism in the baptismal font.” In other words, the Cypriot church followed the Antiochene pattern, and continued to do so after Antioch had adopted post-baptismal chrismation.

It is this which leads me to ponder again on the initial question. I might have hoped that the identification of Canones Hippolyti as reflecting Antiochene, rather than Egyptian, liturgy would offer some clarification, though sadly this text does not. Although there is some confusion the post-baptismal rites follow the pattern of Traditio apostolica.

Is it even possible that the influence of Traditio apostolica, or some version thereof, led to the Antiochene and Hagiopolite adoption of post-baptismal anointing? Juliette Day does canvass this suggestion, (Baptismal liturgy, 138) but does not follow through on it. Nor will I, or at least not on this occasion!

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Ancient church orders at NAPS 2022

Only one church order paper at the upcoming meeting of NAPS in Chicago, but it’s a good one! Here, with thanks to the author, is the abstract of what sounds like a fascinating paper.

Christological Titles in the Prayer-Texts of the Apostolic Tradition

Prayer-texts form a distinctive category of material within ancient Christian literature, not least because of their tendency to retain styles and vocabulary that have become archaic or even obsolete in other forms of discourse. Following the now established conclusion that the anonymous ancient church order known as the Apostolic Tradition is not a third-century work by a certain Hippolytus but a piece of “living literature” that gradually developed between the second and fourth centuries, this paper examines the use of the designation “your servant Jesus Christ” in its prayers in comparison with the same expression in other sources. While the phrase tended to be superseded by other more Christologically advanced titles in those sources in the course of the second century, it was still preserved alongside them in certain doxological formulae down to at least the fourth century, especially in Egyptian prayers. In contrast to these, however, in the Apostolic Tradition this primitive epithet is not confined to doxologies and usually appears without other titles for Christ in prayers. This suggests that any exceptions have been subjected to later interpolations, and that the substance of the whole prayers is genuinely extremely old.


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Getting into hot water with Anton Baumstark

Borg. Ar. 22, one of the manuscripts containing the Arabic Testamentum Domini, has a liturgical appendix with material related to, but distinct from, parallel material in Testamentum Domini. Some of this was published by Baumstark in “Eine aegyptische Mess- und Taufliturgie vermutlich des 6 Jahrhunderts” Oriens christianus 1 (1901) p. 1-45. I had a note from a colleague querying Baumstark’s rendition of بحميم الميلاد الثانى in one of the prayers after baptism, as “per aquam calidam regenerationis.” The question was whether I could make any sense of it; where, indeed, did Baumstark find the aqua?

My first look was to see what the word was in the Testamentum Domini. Although this isn’t straight Testamentum there is a comparable prayer there, where the word is ܣܚܬܐ. That is straightforward. But this passage is derived from from Traditio apostolica. The Latin here is lauacrum regenerationis, with an apparent reference to Titus 3:5, and so in keeping with the Syriac of Testamentum Domini.

The Sahidic of this section of Traditio apostolica is not extant and the Bohairic rather free but the Arabic is للحمي الى للولدة الثانية (Horner, Statutes of the apostles, 101), thus using the same root. So I went to check the dictionaries, going first to Wehr, to find on p203 حم with form 10 as “take a bath”. And so to Lane, who has this form 10, but also the noun حمة meaning a hot spring. I can only think that the root came to refer to a bath through metonymy, though the usage here is otherwise unattested. If this is the case the meaning is straightforward and entirely in keeping with the original, and although Baumstark’s translation is rather forced we can see where he got the water from!

However, beyond the minutia of this single word, the correspondence reminds me of how fascinating this liturgical appendix is as witness to the Egyptian Nachleben of the liturgies of Testamentum Domini.

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The baptismal rite in the Ethiopic versions of Traditio apostolica

One baffling aspect of the mediaeval Ethiopic version of Traditio apostolica is the presence of an additional baptismal rite, apart from a version of that found in other versions of Traditio apostolica (ed. Hugo Duensing, Der Äthiopische Text der Kirchenordnung des Hippolyt (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1946), 81-127.)

Alessandro Bausi, “The baptismal ritual in the earliest Ethiopic canonical liturgical collection” in Heinzgerd Brakmann et al (ed), Neugeboren aus Wasser und Heiligem Geist”: Kölner Kolloquium zur Initiatio Christiana (Münster: Aschendorff, 2020), 31-83 has now published a version of a clearly closely related baptismal ritual from the Axumite collection from which he derived the new text of Traditio apostolica. I have yet to explore it in detail, but since I have at present, as a result of the ongoing discussion with Maxwell Johnson about the interrogation in the Egyptian rite, a particular interest in the introduction of the syntaxis into Egyptian baptismal rites (generally suggested to have taken place in the fourth century on the basis of the appearance of such a syntaxis in Canones Hippolyti, evidence which has now disappeared with the denial of an Egyptian provenance to this document) and in the role and presence of the five-membered creed found in the Deir Balizeh papyrus and elsewhere (including Epistula apostolorum) as part of my overall argument that declaratory creeds are no less primitive than interrogatory creeds (though the language is misleading), I took a particular interest in the baptismal confession found in the Axumite ordo.

Essentially this baptismal confession is the same as that found in the present Coptic rite, namely the declaration of the five-membered creed, followed by a brief interrogation: “Do you believe?” “I believe” repeated three times. What is notable, however, is the absence of any syntaxis. This implies a rather later entrée of the syntaxis into Egyptian rites (it is, for instance, present in the current Coptic rite) than previously thought.

Turning to the version in the mediaeval Ethiopic of Traditio apostolica we find that the same baptismal profession that is in the Axumite rite, as in the present Coptic rite, in in place, namely the prompted repetition of the five-membered creed and the repeated question “Do you believe?” (though are very slight variations between the Axumite version and the mediaeval version.) This later rite, however, has a syntaxis. This syntaxis, however, is none other than, yet again, the same five-membered creed, which is thus repeated twice in the ritual! In the version of the rite of Traditio apostolica within this text the same, expanded, version of the five-membered creed as found in the Coptic version of the Traditio is found, albeit partly conformed to the interrogatory shape of the original. But given that the version in the second ritual lacks the expansions this can hardly be put down to the influence of Traditio apostolica. I think there may be more to say about this… but consider that after writing a 138 word sentence that that’s enough for now.

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The interrogation in Egyptian baptismal rites

In response to my article The early Alexandrian baptismal creed: declaratory, interrogatory… or both?” Questions liturgiques 95 (2014), 237-253 (which came out in 2015(!)), questioning whether Egypt had ever known an “interrogatory” baptismal rite, Maxwell Johnson has responded, defending his position, in “Interrogatory creedal formulae in early Egyptian baptismal rites: a reassessment of the evidence” Questions liturgiques 101 (2021), 75-93. I have now drafted a response to his response which, I think, brings some valuable new considerations into play. It may be that I will have to revise my original position slightly, but if this new evidence is as significant as I think it is then the position to which I originally took exception, namely that the original form of baptismal profession in Egypt was an interrogation like that found in Traditio apostolica, is completely excluded,

I also think that the issues explored go beyond the narrow concern of the Egyptian baptismal rite, as it raises the whole question of the priority of “interrogatory” creeds over “declaratory” credal statements.

There is a definite church order aspect to this, as the discussion involves a consideration of the baptismal interrogations in Canones Hippolyti and the Sahidic version of Traditio apostolica.

I knocked the response in a couple of days (nights actually). Because it was written in haste and heat I let myself cool off and, whilst cooling off, posted the draft to as a discussion paper, in the hope of guidance and correction from those equipped to guide and correct.

The discussion ended with no comment from anyone. From this I concluded that nobody was that bothered. However, I made some revisions, removed the academia discussion, and sent it off anyway… I can now announce that the result, “The interrogation in Egyptian baptismal rites: a further consideration” will appear in Questions liturgiques in due course. Whether anyone reads it is, of course, another question.

Here, anyway, is the abstract of the forthcoming article:
In response to Alistair C Stewart, Maxwell Johnson has presented arguments for continuing to see an interrogation in the original Egyptian baptismal rite. This article takes a fresh look at the question, suggesting that the evidence cannot lead to a certain conclusion on this point. Nonetheless, the form of the stipulatio, introduced into Egypt in the third century and previously unknown there, tends to indicate that the interrogatory baptismal rite, which employs this form, is a western phenomenon. It is possible that the interrogation entered Egyptian baptismal rituals as a result of the widespread Egyptian adoption of the stipulatio.

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Traditio apostolica 25

In his recent Apostolic Tradition reconstructed (29, fn 44) Bradshaw ascribes part of Traditio apostolica 25 to the later Ethiopic translator, noting its absence in the Axumite version. In keeping with his overall approach he ascribes layers to the chapter. I give the chapter showing his layers; material in Roman type is the Grundschrift, that in italics is ascribed to a third-century redactor, that struck through does not appear in Bradshaw’s version at all as it is assigned to the later translator.

When the bishop is present and evening is come the deacon brings in a lamp 2and standing among all the believers who are present he shall give thanks. Firstly he greets them as he says: “The Lord be with you.”

And the people shall say: “And with your spirit.”

Let us give thanks to the Lord.”

And they shall say: “It is right and just. Greatness and exaltation with praise is fitting to him.”

And he shall not say “Hearts on high,” for it is to be said at the offering.

And he shall pray in this way as he says: “We give you thanks, O God, through your child Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom you have illuminated us, revealing to us the incorruptible light. 8Therefore we have completed the length of the day and we have arrived at the beginning of the night, being sated with the day’s light which you created for our satisfaction. And now, having arrived at the light of evening through your grace, we give you praise and glorify you 9through your child Jesus Christ, our Lord, through whom to you be power and honour together with the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.”

And all shall say: “Amen.”

And then, when they get up after the dinner, they shall pray, and the children and the virgins shall say psalms.

And afterwards the deacon, when he takes the mixed cup of the oblation, shall say one of the psalms in which “alleluia” is written.

After that, if the presbyter has commanded, again from the same psalms. And afterwards, the bishop having offered the cup, he shall say a psalm proper to the cup, while all say “alleluia.” 14And all of them, as he recites the psalms, shall say “alleluia,” which is to say “we praise him who is God most high; glorified and praised is he who founded all the world with one word.”

And likewise, when the psalm is completed, he shall give thanks over the cup (Dix emends to “bread”) and give of the fragments to all the faithful.

Although this chapter only appears in completeness in a mediaeval Ethiopic version, there are hints of its existence in Canones Hippolyti and Testamentum Domini.

If there is a feast or a dinner provided by somebody for the poor, it is the Lord’s (κυριακόν). The bishop should be present when a lamp is lit. The deacon gets up to light it and the bishop prays over them and over those who invited them. It is right that he make the thanksgiving (εὐχαριστία) at the beginning of the liturgy so that they can be dismissed before it is dark, and recite psalms before their departure. (Canons of Hippolytus 32)

The lamp should be offered in the temple by the deacon, as he says “The grace of the Lord be with you all.” And all the people should say “And with your spirit.”

The little boys should sing spiritual psalms and hymns of praise by the light of the lamp. All the people, all together, their voices in harmony, should respond to the psalm and to the song, “Alleluia.” Nobody should kneel until the one who is speaking has ceased. In the same way, also, when a reading is read or a word of instruction is spoken. If the name of the Lord is thus uttered, and the rest, as has already been adequately discussed, nobody should bow, coming in creeping. (Testamentum Domini 2.11)

It may be noted that Canones Hippolyti makes reference to the recitation of psalms; Testamentum Domini does the same, and, moreover, prescribes the “Alleluia” response.

Something about psalm singing, and the alleluia response, must therefore, surely, have been in the version circulating in fourth century Cappadocia on which these two versions draw. As such it can hardly be the work of a mediaeval Ethiopian. This is not to deny that there are issues of transmission here; the phrase “when they get up after the dinner” is particularly suspicious. But the funny business is certainly not as Bradshaw would have it here. Looking at his reconstruction initially I thought it looked too neat!

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Bradshaw’s reconstruction of the Apostolic tradition: the interactive version

Paul Bradshaw informs me that an interactive version of his reconstruction is available on the Alcuin Club website. I’ve had great fun playing with it… hope you do too!

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Bradshaw’s reconstruction of Traditio apostolica

It is a while since I posted anything here; I did wonder whether the utility of the blog might be coming to and end, and even composed a final posting in my head. This is due to pressure of other work, not the least my day job. And since it appears that the Church of England no longer values the work of parish clergy, I have been treasuring it all the more. tells the story. Of course, the pattern proposed, we hear, is “like the early church”. “Back to the future” goes through my head. Which is no doubt why, in the first generations, the Didachist saw fit to charge the appointment of episkopoi and diakonoi who are “worthy of the Lord.” We should be so lucky.

However, these rather depressing reflections are interrupted by the arrival of Paul Bradshaw, The apostolic tradition reconstructed: a text for students (JLS 91; Norwich: Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2021) for which I had to part with ten quid. And of course you want to know whether I consider it worth it. My initial comment is that it could hardly fail to be an improvement on Cuming, which I assume this work replaces. But forty-odd pages for over a tenner is on the steep side (given the price of my own commentary!)

Bradshaw employs the recently discovered Axumite Ethiopic text, and largely employs this as the base for his version. I could hardly fail to approve! Also, interestingly, he employs a system of type-faces graphically to show the “original” (that is to say material from early in the second century) (in Roman type), third century (or so) expansions (shown in italics) and later material (underlined.) This is helpful for those of us concerned to trace the levels of redaction; whether it helps the students of the subtitle is another question.

Bradshaw’s italicized sections are still within the period that I set for the redactional work of the Hippolytean school. Thus, for instance, the first, introductory chapter is supplied, he suggests, by whoever first brought the material together; I would not disagree (though I am surprised to see that he assigns the final chapter to a later hand). Indeed Bradshaw would assign the greater part of the document to a second or early third century date; he italicizes sections which are manifestly not fourth century, such as the offering of cheese and olives at the Eucharist, but since this is still within the relatively early history of the document I will not cavil. And so I will not pick on the italicized sections, and will also admit that there is broad (albeit only broad) agreement on the Grundschrift. Thus in dealing with the question of Bradshaw’s assignment of sections to date I largely overlook the italicized sections, simply looking at what he underlines, (thus assigning this material to the later periods of reworking.) I also avoid discussing the ordination prayers again, referring to our two recently published articles on the subject (see here and here).

In the episcopal eucharistic prayer after ordination (TA 4) Bradshaw admits a largely 3C origin, but also suspects some later additions, which makes a eucharistic prayer without an anamnesis. This is not impossible, but I would like to know why. Bradshaw similarly sees the epiklesis as later, though of course I do not think it is an an epiklesis at all. Similarly he is suspicious of the institution narrative; although I admit that this is an early appearance, perhaps the earliest, of such a narrative within an eucharistic prayer I suggest elsewhere that it might be retained so that the prayer has the shape of a collect.

The statement prescribing a three year catechumenate (TA 17) is assigned to a later period. Here I refer to something I wrote some years ago, in the debate in SVTQ referring to his earlier commentary:

the discussion of the length of the catechumenate (96-98) is excellent, and many interesting parallels are drawn. I would not dissent from the conclusion that a three-year catechumenate was not general in the ante-Nicene church, but this conclusion need not be drawn from the determination that the three-year period is fourth-century, but could be equally well reached from reckoning that the Hippolytean school, like that of Clement, which is roughly contemporary, employed an extensive period of catechumenate because of its scholastic orientation.

I do not understand the assignment of the daily exorcism (TA 20.3) and the effeta (TA 20.8) to the fourth century. It is true that otherwise the effeta is not found until the letter of John the deacon, but then again the sources are very thin. There is nothing which demands that this not be seen as primitive. Even less do I understand why Bradshaw assigns the renunciation (TA 21.6-9) to a later period. There are hints of renunciation in baptismal rites from the earliest evidence. The rationale given in a footnote is that the description of the baptismal rite is interrupted. I do see this, and observe it myself in the second edition of my own commentary, but still suspect that something must have stood here, even if it is not precisely the rite that is now extant, for which reason I assign it to a level of redaction prior even to the first redaction of Traditio apostolica.

It seems strange to assign the giving of milk and honey to the newly baptized to a later period (TA 21.28-30). It is surely early, since the same practice is found in Marcionite circles.

On the deacons “garment” (TA 22) I refer to the post below and the published article on the subject. Bradshaw continues to assign this to a later period.

The statement “this is a blessing and not the body of the Lord” at TA 26.2 is assigned to a later redactor. I do not see why; indeed one would expect that the distinction would be made only while the Eucharist took place within a Sättigungsmahl. I also do not see why the restriction of flowers to roses and lilies is considered later. (TA 32.2b), though the matter is admittedly minor.

By contrast I am surprised to see Bradshaw assign the supper for widows (TA 30) to the Grundschrift. One might have thought that this provision only came about once the Eucharist had ceased to be a Sättigungsmahl and another avenue for food charity would be required.

I think I have said enough. The work repays study, though I am not moved in my opinions in any way. Except at one point: Bradshaw suggests that TA 25.2b-10 is from a slightly later level of redaction (third century) than the original instruction regarding the entry of the light. This is plausible. He further suggests that the rest of the chapter is the work of the Ethiopic translator. This is an interesting thought, and certainly cleans up some of the mess here. I have not determined whether or not he is right, my main caveat being that the chapter is a bit too tidy as a result (!) but certainly it is a point worth of consideration.

It is of course hard to change a mind, once made up… indeed I have often entertained the thought that the Metzger/Bradshaw line on Traditio apostolica is a blik (the term of R.M. Hare, should you not be familiar with it. ) Presumably this is why Bradshaw persists in translating the Latin version of the post-baptismal episcopal anointing prayer, rather than the oriental version, which is now supported by the Axumite Ethiopic. There might once have been a case for following the Latin, but it was in my opinion never strong (though it was upheld by Anglican evangelicals for confessional reasons) but surely its appearance in the new Ethiopic weakens the case yet further. In the same way I was surprised to see that he persists in thinking that the baptismal creed has been expanded. The christology, he opines, “is too advanced for the period to which we are assigning the earliest layer of this document” (40) Possibly so (though I don’t really see that the Roman creed encodes a particularly “high” christology) but too advanced for the early third century? Really? He suggests that “a redactor…expanded the original short answers to correspond more closely to… the old Roman Symbol.” (41) This is, of course, different to the approach of the 2002 commentary (I have written on this elsewhere) which indicates that Bradshaw has been forced to take some of my critique on board, and is trying desperately to save his position. This latest version begs the question as to why a fourth-century redactor should want to expand the creed (and do so before, note, the redaction of Testamentum Domini and Canones Hippolyti in the middle of that century), and begs the larger question of how the old Roman symbol emerged if not from a baptismal context. Nonetheless here, and elsewhere, I see less blasé assignment of material to a series of mysterious fourth-century eastern redactors, and much more assigned to the third-century date that I have always maintained.

How to conclude? My best suggestion is, should you have ten Pounds (or its equivalent in other currencies) to spare, that you get your own copy and decide for yourselves. I’m holding on to mine… I’m beginning to think about a third edition!

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The disappearing deacon

This week has seen another three online seminars as part of the “What did deacons do?” project. When the recorded versions are available I will post the link.

At the conclusion of the discussion questions were raised about what might be included in a summary chapter to conclude the book based on the project. Discussion had indicated that the pattern was one of decline in the significance and role of the deacon in the fourth century, and thought was given that this might need some explanation.

My own suggestion is that this is the result of change in the nature of episkopoi, who gain bigger dioceses (note the legislation against chorepiskopoi) and a result of this, in turn, the increase in the number of presbyters. As the aboriginal episcopal function of charity disappears the role of the deacon as administrator of this episcopal charity also disappears. Moreover, as presbyters grow in importance and numbers, assistantship turns into assistance not to the bishop but to the presbyter. Of course there are exceptions; Rome is distinct as a relatively small urban diocese with a large extra-diocesan responsibility, and the community of the Testamentum Domini has a bishop (and presbyters) who fasts and prays and doesn’t do anything else, so it’s all left to the deacons! But in other sources, such as Ephrem and Chrysostom (discussed this week), we observe the diminution of the role in the fourth century and beyond. The evidence that might indicate a more active role is in the church orders, but as is often remarked, these are archaeological, and tend to repeat material which is traditional, but no longer reflects real conditions, and therefore have to be used with great care. Thus when Canones Hippolyti states that the deacon accompanies the bishop this is actually from Traditio apostolica, and is in any case a mistranslation by the Arabic translator due to misunderstanding the Coptic translation from which he was working. I am sure that the original Greek verb was προσκαρτερέω.

Rather unfashionably, might I also suggest that the development of woman deacons in the latter part of the fourth century might in turn result from this diminution? In other words, if a role is not that important, then it might be entrusted to a woman!


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The ordination prayers of Traditio apostolica: the Bradshavian version

Just published is Paul F. Bradshaw, “The ordination prayers in the so-called Apostolic Tradition” Vigiliae Christianae 75 (2021), 119-129.

Abstract: The anonymous church order formerly identified as the Apostolic Tradition and attributed to Hippolytus is now regarded by many scholars as a composite work made up of layers of redaction from around the mid-second to mid-fourth centuries. This essay revises the unsatisfactory attempt to discern such strata in its ordination prayers that was made by Eric Segelberg as long ago as 1975, and argues that their earliest forms are among the oldest material in the so-called Apostolic Tradition, belonging to the first half of the second century.

There is much in common here with my own recent treatment, particularly as both use Segelberg as a springboard, though Bradshaw continues to be mistrustful of what he sees as hieratic language in the episcopal ordination prayer.

Unlike my own article, however, his gives consideration to the presbyteral ordination prayer, and makes the persuasive suggestion that this too may have some antiquity, at least in an earlier form. He points out that that no liturgical functions are mentioned, which seems to reflect a situation where the presbyters were not ministers as such but advisors to the bishop. He states “One might assume that such people would simply have been elected or appointed without any ritual act or even prayer for them, but there is no reason to suppose that this was true everywhere or that it persisted throughout the century as their role began to change” (127). This is certainly possible.

His final sentence is also worth pondering. “… it deserves emphasizing that there is no reason to think that the prayers formed a single collection prior to their absorption into the developing Apostolic Tradition, but each one may have come from a different ecclesiastical tradition.” (129)

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The Didache as an associational lex

2021 sees the publication of Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 62 (2019).

This contains my article “The Didache as an associational lex: re-opening the question of the genre(s) of the church orders” on pp29-49. I am very pleased to announce this publication, as I am hoping that it answers many of the questions posed on this blog, and has been “forthcoming” for about as long as I can remember! I have come to realize that items in publication are like buses… you wait for ages and then three come along at once.

Abstract: Although the term “church orders” is widely used there is no agreement as to its definition.
The genre of the Didache is examined in the light of recent discussion, and the conclusion is reached that it should be termed a Christian associational lex. This conclusion is based principally on the grounds of common content and purpose with other ancient non-Christian associational leges, but also to an extent on form. It is then noted that Traditio apostolica manifests the same phenomenon and may similarly be classified as a Christian associational lex. On this basis it is argued that whereas the later church orders form a literary tradition, rather than conforming to a single genre, they originate as associational leges.

E-offprints are available through the usual channels.


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The ordination prayers in Traditio apostolica

SVTQ_64_1-2_front_cover__15245.1607463417Newly appeared in SVTQ 64.1–2 (2020), 11–24, is my “The Ordination Prayers in Traditio Apostolica: the search for a Grundschrift

Abstract: Although there is much disagreement regarding the date and provenance of Traditio apostolica, there is growing agreement that a source underlies some of the document. This article suggests that this source included material regarding the ordination of a bishop. Although it has been expanded, it is possible to reconstruct much of this source. A Roman provenance and second-century date are suggested.

Sharp-eyed readers will note that this is a reversal of the position I took in the two editions of my commentary. For this reason, this post is being filed among e-rrata.

Offprints can be sent on request through the usual channels.


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Chase on the daily office in Apostolic Tradition

I have just read with interest Nathan Chase, “Another look at the ‘daily office’ in Apostolic traditionStudia liturgica 49 (2019), 5-25.

Abstract: The daily prayer practices outlined in the Apostolic Tradition, their origins, and even the number of prayer hours, have been points of dispute among scholars. However, new sources of the Apostolic Tradition, as well as work on lay ascetical movement in Egypt, call for the reevaluation of this document, its dating, provenance, and interpretation. This article argues that the Apostolic Tradition is a composite document, whose daily prayer cycle in its current form has been shaped by a third- or fourth-century lay ascetical movement in Egypt. The document appears to outline prayer at rising, followed by a communal service of catechesis and prayer, prayer at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, as well as prayer at bed and in the middle of the night. Given the difficulties in interpreting the document it is unlikely that the document, or at least the daily prayer practices outlined in it, were celebrated as written.

For me, the major point emerging from this article is an apparent consensus that the final pattern of daily prayer in early Christian circles is the result of the conflation of distinct patterns. And I think that Chase is right in his reconstruction of the horarium (noting with a certain satisfaction that he agrees with me that prayer at cock-crow is not a distinct hour, but the same as prayer on rising from sleep).

Beyond the headlines, some valuable observations are made, not the least of which is the possibility that Canones Hippolyti 27 is an attempt to make usable the horarium of Traditio apostolica. I think this entirely plausible. Traditio apostolica is confused  as the result (I suggest) of two distinct conclusions being conjoined.

Chase’s overall argument that the horarium is Egyptian, partly based on the possibility that it was employed by lay monastic groups like those envisaged by the Gnomae is, I think, unnecessary. These lay monastic groups are widely known, and may well have emerged from school settings like that I envisage for Traditio apostolica. Nonetheless it gives me a degree of personal satisfaction in seeing the the Gnomae employed as a source in scholarly work.

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Libation and the “longer text” of Luke 22

Many years ago, in a seminar at Codrington College, I set a proverbial cat among the metaphorical pigeons by suggesting, only partly seriously, that the words over the (second) cup in the longer text of Luke implied that a libation had been offered. In the phrase τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐν τῷ αἵματί μου, τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ἐκχυννόμενον ἐκχυννόμενον properly refers not to the blood but to the cup.

One of my “lock-down” activities has been thinking about the two texts of Luke’s last supper, an issue which has intrigued me since student days. Thus I was interested to see that Matthias Klinghardt, a few years ago, made the same suggestion in all earnestness (“Der vergossene Becher: Ritual und Gemeinschaft im lukanischen Mahlbericht” Early Christianity 3 (2012), 33-58). Klinghardt suggests that Luke would not commit such a solecism as to use the wrong case here; of course Luke might not, but an interpolator might. This is thus an indication that the “longer text” is an interpolated text.

Klinghardt argues that Luke indeed means that a libation was poured, though he makes no reference to the textual issue. Nonetheless it is possible that an interpolator misunderstood the Pauline type material which he was handling (as I believe happened), which in turn would imply that libations were known in the cultic circle from which he came. As such, whether the participle refers to the blood or to the cup itself, this would be an interpolation deriving from liturgical practice, whether or not that practice included a libation. As evidence for the possibility that libations were poured in Christian eucharistic liturgy we may observe Traditio apostolica 38.2 which, in its current context, is strange but, if the argument that these chapters are reworked from material dealing with a eucharistic Sättigungsmahl is accepted, may readily be seen as a prohibition on the pouring of libations at the Eucharist, which is a sure sign in turn that such practice was known. A similar line is taken by M.J.C. Warren, “The cup of God’s wrath: libation and early Christian meal practice in Revelation” Religions 9 (2018), 413, n. 6.with regard to the Jewish texts apparently prohibiting libations, such as M.Avodah Zarah 5.1-6 and the corresponding passages in the Talmud, namely that the reason why there is such a careful attempt to guard against the possibility of wine being used for libations by gentiles is that this was also part of Jewish ritual. Warren (“Cup”, 9-10) suggests that the libation imagery of Revelation is negative, and directed against the practice of libations by Christians, again implying the possible practice of libation by Christians. This is possible, though her further suggestion that the seer is opposed to the Christian use of wine entirely is surely an overstatement.

The use of libations by Christians is thus possible; again, an early dating of Traditio apostolica reveals significant liturgical information lying just beneath its third-century surface.

Klinghardt actually suggests that the early Christian Eucharist was simply a regular Sättigungsmahl of religious significance, and was invariably marked by a libation. Although I have not excluded the possibility of the offering of libations at Christian eucharistic meals, it does not seem to have been a regular, or even a common, occurrence.

To return to the text of Luke, it is possible that we have interesting evidence here that libations were offered. However, given that we are dealing with a rather clumsy interpolator, it is also possible that our interpolator had a weak grasp of the Greek case system in relative clauses!

Edit (May 17th 2020): I now find, in further reading, that Klinghardt’s theory was proposed by O. Holtzmann “Das Abendmahl im Urchristentum” ZNW  5 (1904), 89-120. 


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E-rratum: Apostolic tradition p82

Discussing the phrase “he opened wide his hand when he suffered” at Traditio apostlolica 4.7 on p82 of the second edition of my commentary we read that there is a reference to this action in De Antichristo 52, and a statement that this text quotes Isaiah 65.2.

I’m not sure how I managed to produce two errors in one line… however, the citation should be to De Antichristo 61. And there is no citation of Isaiah here. The error is certainly also found in the first edition, from which it had been carried over.

Thanks to Darrell Hannah who noticed this.

The substantive point that the usage of Traditio apostolica here can be illustrated from within the Hippolytean corpus nonetheless remains.

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Something new on Traditio apostolica

From Markus Vinzent: something which will at least move the argument on, and gives us something new to think about, with regard to Traditio apostolica.

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Yet another attempt to deny Roman provenance to Traditio apostolica

Looking for something else, today I came across Maciej Zachara Mic “Czy Tradycja apostolska jest dokumentem rzymskim?” Ruch biblijny I liturgicznyrok 65 (2012), 3-20. As my Polish is somewhat non-existent (in spite of living in Slough) I am relieved to find the English abstract: ·

The so-called Apostolic Tradition is usually considered an element of the history of the liturgy of the Roman Church. This conviction lays ultimately on two presuppositions: on the attribution of the Apostolic Tradition to St. Hippolytus of Rome and on the presence of two postbaptismal anointings in the baptismal ritual of Apostolic Tradition, which is peculiar exclusively to the Roman liturgy. However, none of these presuppositions is certain. The arguments for St. Hippolytus’ authorship are so weak, that this attribution must be considered highly improbable. The presence of two postbaptismal anointings in the Apostolic Tradition can be explained by the complexity of its baptismal ritual which seems to be a conflation of different traditions. On the other hand, the Roman tradition of two postbaptismal anointings is probably due to the episcopal prerogative to administer the confirmation and to the concession given to presbyters to anoint the neophytes with the chrism at the baptisms administered by them. This presbyteral chrismation was afterwards extended to every baptism. Consequently, the origins of the Apostolic Tradition are far from certain and its Roman provenance is by no means proved.

The article itself can be read here.

Oddly enough this is in line with my argument in my commentary. Although the initiatory section was much revised in the second edition in view of the critique of Bradshaw and Ekenberg, I suggested in both versions that the double post-baptismal anointing was unrelated to that in Gelasianum and should not be considered as evidence for a Roman provenance, and that the document largely reflected the life of an emigré congregation. The argument for Roman provenance rests on neither presupposition identified by Fr Mic. Nuff said.

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The smell of baking bread: Mart. Pol. 15

In Didascalia apostolorum we read: “You set pure bread before him, which is formed by fire and sanctified by the invocation, offering without demur and praying for those who sleep.” (DA 6.22.2.)

In Traditio apostolica 22 we read: “On the first of the week the bishop, if he is able, should himself distribute to all the people with his own hand, while the deacons break. And the presbyters break the baked bread.”

Dix, (Treatise, 44) suggests that “the bread they are given” should be read instead of “the baked bread”— reading wefoya (delivered) rather than ‘afoya (baked)— a reading which is found in two manuscripts of the later Ethiopic text. Botte (Tradition apostolique, 61 n. 3) suggests that since the same phrase appears in the Ethiopic version at chapter 26 below “baked” must be the correct reading, though he is at a loss as to what the term means. Moreover, the appearance of “baked” in the Aksumite Ethiopic means that “baked” should certainly be read. Similarly the Aksumite version has “baked bread” in TA 26.

In previous publications I have noted this emphasis on the fact that bread is baked, and leaned towards the suggestion that bread might be baked in situ, particularly in the cemeteries (in my works on Didascalia and Vita Polycarpi certainly, and perhaps elsewhere.) The context in Vita Polycarpi was the report that the burning Polycarp gave off the smell of baking bread (Mart. Pol. 15.)

In an increasingly rare lightbulb moment it occurred to me that this may be a reference (and implicit contrast) to the practice of sacrifice. Bread (and Polycarp) are offered, and baked, in the same way that animal sacrifices were cooked with fire. I am also aware of burnt grain offerings, particularly at Roman tombs, but admit that I do not know enough about sacrificial practice to be certain on this point. Nonetheless it all adds up.. If anyone can point me to a beginners’ guide to the practice of ancient sacrifice in the early centuries of the Common Era, particularly in funereal settings, with big print and lots of pictures (or else, with reliable primary source material!) I would be gratified indeed. For the present, I withdraw my suggestion that bread was baked on site and accuse myself of a further error.

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Was chapter 4 a later addition to Traditio apostolica?

Jens Schröter “Die Funktion der Herrenmahlsüberlieferungen im 1. Korintherbrief: zugleich ein Beitrag zur Rolle der “Einsetzungsworte” im frühchristlichen Mahltexten” ZNW 100 (2009), 78-100, at 79-80 in footnote 5, notes that the episcopal eucharistic prayer at TA4 is absent from some versions, and thus suggests that it might have been added to some versions of Traditio apostolica at a later date. The prayer is present in Latin but absent in Sahidic and the Axumite Ethiopic versions. However, turning to the rewritings, it was obviously available to the redactors of Testamentum Domini and Constitutiones apostolicae, though is absent from Canones Hippolyti. So we have to ask ourselves at what later stage this chapter was added, such that it might find its way to Italy, Cappadocia and Antioch within the time-frame. It is not as if a more convincing solution is fairly obvious, given the distribution of the chapter’s presence and absence, namely that it was omitted in the Alexandrian recension, and thus in the versions dependent on that Greek original.

This is yet another example of the knots into which those who seek to deny the Roman and early third-century provenance of Traditio apostolica tie themselves

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The deacon’s garment, again

Newly published is “The deacon’s ‘garment’ at Traditio apostolica 22: an attempt at understanding” SVTQ 61 (2017), 119-122. Remember… you read it here first (see below!)

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The difficulties of interpretation in Traditio apostolica 41.6 and a suggested solution

At Traditio apostolica 41.5-6 we read:

And if indeed you are in your house, pray at the third hour and praise God. But if you are elsewhere and the occasion comes about, pray in your heart to God. For at that hour Christ was displayed nailed to the tree. For this reason also in the Old the Law prescribed that the shewbread should be offered at every hour as a type of the Body and Blood of Christ; and the slaughter of the speechless lamb is this, a type of the perfect lamb. For the shepherd is Christ, and also the bread which came down from heaven.

There is a variation in the Aksumite Ethiopic here. The text reads: “Pay careful attention to the time; for at that time we anticipate the return of Christ,” before going on to discuss the types of the shewbread and the lamb.

In any event it is hard to disentangle the logic here.

I have now come across the comments of Wenrich Slenczka, Heilsgeschichte und 9783110810080Liturgie: Studien zum Verhältnis von Heilsgeschichte und Heilsteilhabe anhand liturgischer und katechetischer Quellen des dritten und vierten Jahrhunderts (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 78; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000) at 27-29 (a catchy title if every I saw one.) This I missed, so must admit to an error of omission in the second edition of my commentary.

Slenczka suggests that the verse regarding the shewbread is a gloss on 42B.3 (the following chapter)

This (the protecting power of God) Moses showed in the paschal sheep which was slaughtered. He sprinkled the blood on the threshold and anointed the doorposts, and showed forth that faith in the perfect sheep which is now in us.

This, it must be admitted, is possible though, as Slenczka admits, would have occurred early in the process of transmission. My problem with the suggestion is that, although I can see the connection between Moses’s lamb and Christ (not hard) the logic of the shewbread is less obvious, and the connection between the placarding of Christ (which is the connection with the shewbread) and the protecting power of the blood (which is the context for the mention of the lamb and its blood in chapter 42) creates a tension almost as difficult as the crux of interpretation that the movement of the verse is meant to solve.


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Bryan A. Stewart, Priests of my people

Recently published by Peter Lang, what appears to be a very light revision of the thesis which may be read at

To quote the beginning of the publisher’s information (the rest of which may be seen at “This book offers an innovative examination of the question: why did early Christians begin calling their ministerial leaders «priests» (using the terms hiereus/sacerdos)?”

On the basis of a speedy read my initial reaction is there is certainly something here and the proposal is certainly superior to that of Hanson which it seeks to replace, though I feel somehow that Stewart has not told the whole story. Nonetheless the observation of the possibility that priestly imagery has some connection with the maintenance of sacred space, which is Stewart’s fundamental argument, is perhaps part of the story which might be told.

With chapters on the Traditio apostolica and the Didascalia apostolorum it cannot fail to be interesting!

PS: I am not related, to my knowledge, to the author.

Edited in November 2019 to update links, both of which were broken.

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The receptacle for the loaf at Traditio apostolica 22

This is an extensively updated version of the post that was formerly here.

Barely six months since the publication of the second edition of my Hippolytus: the apostolic tradition (no third edition is planned) and I notice something which, if not an error, at least should have had further attention.

In Traditio apostolica 22, there is a direction regarding the distribution of Communion. The Ethiopic text published by Duensing states that “when the deacon approaches the presbyter he should unfold his garment (lebso), and the presbyter should take it…” For Dix this is “nonsense” and for Botte “absurde”. Thus Dix and Botte alike prefer to take a reading here from Testamentum Domini 2.11 which, instead of clothing, has ܦܝܢܟܐ ܐܘ ܟܦܦܬܐ (“the disk [πίναξ transliterated?] or paten”), and seek to explain the Ethiopic reading through misunderstanding or corruption. I was misled, in my reconstruction, into accepting this.

However, the more recently discovered Aksumite Ethiopic text has the same reading, which should have given me pause to reconsider, since the processes of corruption suggested by Dix and Botte cannot have occurred in a text directly dependent on the Greek.

There is a further consideration which should have given me cause for hesitation. For when the Ethiopic texts suggests that the deacon “unfold”, or “open”, his clothing, this is reflected in Testamentum Domini, which states that the paten should be “opened” or “unfolded”. Thus this text is no easier to understand than the Ethiopic, since a paten cannot really be opened. This I came to realize whilst translating Testamentum Domini for St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Firstly here is the entire passage:

On the first of the week the bishop, if he is able, should himself distribute to all the people with his own hand, while the deacons break. And the presbyters break the baked bread. When the deacon approaches the presbyter he should open his garment, and the presbyter should take it himself and distribute it to the people with his own hand.

Beyond the word at issue here there is a great deal of confusion, but I remain convinced, building on a suggestion of Dix, that the passage concerns the sharing of eucharistic bread across the diverse Roman congregations, and that the deacons are therefore carrying portions of the loaf consecrated by the bishop to the presbyters who are celebrating elsewhere, a rite known as the fermentum. (On the fermentum generally see Marcel Metzger, “The history of the eucharistic celebration at Rome” in Anscar J. Chupungco (ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies: The Eucharist (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1999), 103-131, on the fermentum at 106-109.) This originated in the manner in which the individual episkopoi in their households might share the eucharistic elements as a sign of union, (reported by Irenaeus at the time of Anicetus apud Eusebius HE 5.24.17) and which, with the development of monepiscopate in Rome, became a rite by which the episkopos sent portions to the presbyters in the city as a mark of his union with them.

If this is correct, then it is possible that this may cast light on the Ethiopic reading. In particular, although much of the evidence for the rite of the fermentum is late, some light may be cast on earlier practice by the statement of the 8th century Ordo Romanus 30B that the fermentum is carried in corporals. (Et transmittit unusquisque presbiter mansionarum de titulo suo ad ecclesiam Salvatoris et exspectant ibi usquedum frangitur Sancta, habentes secum corporales. Et venit oblationarius subdiaconus et dat eis de Sancta, quod pontifex consecravit, et recipiunt ea in corporales et revertitur unusquisque ad titulum suum et tradit Sancta presbitero. Et de ipsa facit crucem super calicem et ponit in eo et dicit: Dominus vobiscum. Et communicant omnes sicut superius.” Text in M. Andrieu, Les ordines Romani du haut moyen age 3 (Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense 24; Leuven: Peeters, 1951), 474.)

The reason for accepting the possibility that this might cast light on a practice some five-hundred years earlier is the continuity between this practice and that of carrying apophoreta away in classical Rome. It was common practice to take food away from the table, reference to this practice being made by Martial, Lucilius and Juvenal. In a manner consistent with the understanding that the origins of the Eucharist were sympotic, we may state that, in essence, the fermentum was the removal of food from a banquet for consumption elsewhere. What is significant is that these morsels are taken away in napkins; thus Martial Epig. 2.37, 7 refers to a sodden mappa filled with food, Lucian Symposium 36 to a napkin (ὀθόνη) filled with food taken from a table and Petronius Satyricon 60 to the filling of mappae with goods from Trimalchio’s table. This practice may readily be compared to the carrying of the fermentum in a corporal.

We may thus explain the Ethiopic as an honest attempt to render the Greek, misunderstanding coming about due to the translator’s failure to recognize the context, and so to know that there was reference here to a napkin, or corporal. If ὀθόνη or something of the sort stood in the text then the translator might well render that as lebs. Moreover, the word rendered by both Ethiopic and Syriac versions as “open” may have been ἀναπτύσσω. Slightly more conjecturally, “his” garment might have come about had the text read ὀθόνη αὐτοῦ, the pronoun referring to the fermentum rather than to the deacon. Thus the Ethiopic translator, who did not understand the rite being described, nonetheless renders a literal, but initially incomprehensible, translation whereas Testamentum Domini, which is after all a reworking rather than a translation, in turning the direction into a description of the administration of Communion in a church, and the respective roles of sacred ministers, thus substitutes vessels for the corporals in which the fermentum was carried.

Thus the relevant passage should read:

When the deacon approaches the presbyter he should unfold its cloth, and the presbyter should take it (the fermentum) himself.

I think my failure here was due to my lack of awareness that the fermentum was carried in corporals. For some reason (I think to do with the way in which we used to say mass with the paten under the corporal) I was under the impression that it was carried on patens, and so anticipated seeing the word here.

In any event, yet another error to chalk up on my syllabus.


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Confessors and presbyters in Traditio apostolica (and its re-writes)

Dani Vaucher, in our ongoing correspondence, perceptively asks whether the directions in Traditio apostolica restricting the promotion of confessors to the honor of presbyterate disguise a conflict between patron-presbyters and confessors, like that which developed in Africa in the third century between confessors and Cyprian.

It’s a fair and worthwhile question, though I do not think that this is the case. The fundamental conflict in this community is between the patron-presbyters and the episkopos, that is, in Weberian terms, between a bureaucratic and a traditional mode of governance. Certainly the patron-presbyters are attempting to restrict access to their privileges, but I think it is too strong to label this a conflict. I don’t think the comparison with Cyprian’s Africa works simply because the confessors there were not attempting to be recognized as presbyters, but were challenging the (bureaucratically legitimated) episcopate.

However, he goes on: Do you think, that the revision of TA §9 in CA points in the same direction?

This reads: And I James, the son of Alphæus, make a constitution in regard to confessors: A confessor is not ordained; for he is so by choice and patience, and is worthy of great honour, as having confessed the name of God, and of His Christ, before nations and kings. But if there be occasion, he is to be ordained either a bishop, priest, or deacon. But if any one of the confessors who is not ordained snatches to himself any such dignity upon account of his confession, let the same person be deprived and rejected; for he is not in such an office, since he has denied the constitution of Christ, and is worse than an infidel. (ANF translation I think, just grabbed for convenience off the web.)

Here certainly one can see how one can read this as a conflict between office and charism, though, again, not with patron-presbyters (not the least because they no longer existed in the fourth century.) One wonders, however, whether the constitutor simply thought that the original provision meant that a confessor should be recognized as a presbyter (in the fourth century understanding, namely a priest) and rushed to correct that. Not that any confessor (were there any, in fourth century Antioch?) had actually claimed to be a priest, not having been ordained.

What is interesting, once again, is how the church orders rewrite material that they do not understand. Thus, for the sake of completeness, this is what Testamentum Domini does with the provision:

If anyone bears witness and makes it known that he was in chains, imprisoned, or tortured on account of the name of God, a hand is not to be laid on him for the diaconate for this reason, in the same way not for the presbyterate, for the honour of the clergy (klēros) is his, since he was protected in his confession by the hand of God. However, if he is appointed as a bishop he is worthy of the imposition of a hand.
If he is a confessor who has not been judged by the powers, and not ill-treated in chains, but has simply confessed, he is worthy of the imposition of a hand; he receives the prayer of the clergy (klēros). However he does not pray over him repeating all the words, but when the shepherd goes forward in promotion the effect is received. (TD 1.39)

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Filed under Apostolic Constitutions, Apostolic Tradition

Traditio apostolica, Canones Hippolyti, and the presbyterate of confessors

As part of our ongoing dialogue about slavery in the church orders Daniel Vaucher asks the following series of interesting questions.

There is another interesting reference to slave in offices: TA 9 about confessors. Confessors are supposed to be made to presbyters; those who only suffered domestic punishment are to be laid hands on for any order they are worth of. (Comparing the different editions and translations, there seems to be a disagreement on the sense of that). Most scholars note that this sentence is a reference to slave-confessors. Canons of Hippolyt §6 speak explicitly of slaves, but they are to receive only the spirit of the presbyterate instead of the insignia. CA adopt the passage as well, but leaving any reference to slaves out. Confessors are not to request an office against the will of the bishop. So the passage in TA 9 is dubious (and was even in antiquity controversial). Were slaves in a worse situation than free confessors? Can we imagine that a slave-owner, who punished his slave due to his religion, tolerated him being in an office (requiring time and money)? But even within TA there is a tension. In TA 15 the slave is to be accepted to the church only with consent of the master. Can we imagine that a slave-owner approves of the religion, but then punishes him for the same reason? (or should we think of exceptional cases in which a slave enters the church, then has his master changed, and is then punished?). There are certainly many questions. I might also ask what you implicate by your remark (in your TA book 2001, p. 93) that this passage TA §9 keeps with “the conservative attitudes towards the slave-class exhibited by the R-El in Refutation, to whom the whole passage is to be attributed.” Do you know of other passages “against” the slave-class in the Refutation? And I also ask if the passage is really this conservative? Did the author had to include a regulation about slaves? He could just as well have left it out, like CA did later, but he chose to include it and grant slaves some honour and possibly also the admission to the presbyterate.

In answering this we turn first to the tension between TA15 and TA 9.
The tension is the result of different levels of redaction. We may reasonably guess that TA15 is part of the Vorlage, which I have termed P. Of course you may say that the redactor made a decision to leave this in, and as such is making a redactional decision, but the tendency in all of these orders, prior to CA, is to leave as much as possible undisturbed, and if necessary to add caveats and qualifications. Possibly this reflects the conservative manner in which sources were employed in antiquity, and this in turn may be the result of the fact that, although codices were coming in at the time of this writer, rolls are still in use. Somehow I cannot see R-El using anything so common as a codex! Anyways, the provision that a slave should have consent is from P; that regarding confessors is from R-El.
Now this redactor is, as I state in the TA (2001) book, sniffy about slaves. I find the assertion repeated in the 2015 edition at p. 109. Look at this author’s biography of Callistus in Ref. 9, an account which J. Glancey, Slavery as a moral problem in the early church and today (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2011), 69, describes as “rife with stereotypes about slaves” as Callistus is depicted as a trickster, a runaway and a thief. This is the basis for the assertion. Note in particular that Callistus sought to extend recognition of the unions of free women with enslaved men, and look at “Hippolytus’” reaction in Ref. 9.7, even though he incorporates (from a source, admittedly) the corresponding provision with regard to free men and enslaved women.
Now the most important point, however, is the point of misunderstanding. In suggesting that confessors be appointed presbyters TA is clear that they are being appointed to an honor, and not to an office. I think this emerges even in my 2001 commentary, left unchanged here in 2015. Quite possibly R-El is legislating ancient practice, and since the presbyterate is in the process of becoming an office there is some confusion here.
It is interesting that this emerges clearly enough from the Sahidic, but that the (later) Ethiopic and Arabic translators completely misunderstand the provision. For TA the point is that such a confessor does not need appointment (cheirotonia) as he has the honor as a right by virtue of being a confessor. CA does not so much omit this, but in failing to understand that the presbyterate here is an honor and not an office, and that cheirotonia is election rather than a sacramental rite of ordination, recasts the entire passage by insisting that ordination is essential for office. Most interesting among the versions is Canones Hippolyti 6, to which Daniel Vaucher refers in his question; here the provision regarding a slave-confessor seems to me to be an addendum to the base of TA, judging by the Sahidic, rather than a reworking of something which is there. And it insists that being a slave is no bar to being a presbyter, though one wonders how effective, as Daniel Vaucher points out, somebody whose primary responsibility is to a master would be in what has now become an office. Nonetheless the fact that the redactor of Canones Hippolyti has to make the provision explicit indicates that there were those in the community who took the line that a slave should not be admitted to office.


Filed under Apostolic Tradition, Canons of Hippolytus

Slavery in the church orders: a dialogue

The following dialogue is redacted from an ongoing correspondence. It may yet be extended. Hopefully it is of interest to an audience beyond the participants.


Daniel Vaucher: a keen graduate student

Alistair C. Stewart: a grizzled old hack

The dialogue takes place somewhere in cyberspace… over the Alps

DV: Let me please introduce myself. My name is Daniel Vaucher, I’m a PhD student at University of Berne, Switzerland in Ancient History at the Center for Global Studies. My research is about Slavery in Early Christianity, and especially, as presented in the Church Orders. Whereas the research on ancient slavery is immense, these sources have not been included at all, or in older research, have been read methodologically imprudently. It is therefore that I write you, since you have been publishing so many great articles and books on the Church Orders and on the methological approach. Your Hippolyt’s Apostolic Tradition and you Didascalia Apostolorum have been very helpful to me, and I was delighted when I found not only your blog on wordpress but also some contributions on other websites with your research on Gnomai of Nicaea.

That is, if you allow me, where I have two requests. In the Didascalia Apostolorum, chapter 18, we read of rich persons and sinners whose gifts are not to be taken by the bishops. Among the long list of sinners are also included slave-owners “who make poor provision for their slaves” (your translation, Introd. p.46). This passage alone is very interesting, but my question is about your remarks on p.47 of your introduction. There, you show the afterlife of the text in the Syntagma Doctrinae (where slave owners are apparantly not mentioned) and Fides Patrum (where the text is expanded: “who is violent to his servants and does not feed them, or clothe them). In note 77, you refer to a forthcoming book, where you discuss these texts. I was just wondering where I can find your discussion and your translations of the texts (I must admit: I cannot read Coptic or Syriac).

And there lies my second question: I see in your publication list that you published a book on the Apostolic Church Order in 2006, a Book on the Two Ways in 2012, and more recently on the Gnomai of Nicaea. Unfortunately, all this books are nowhere to be found in my nearby libraries, and I cannot find them on online shops neither. I was wondering whether you have any spare books yourself which you’d be willing to sell to me, so I could continue researching on these little but very thrilling remarks about slavery in the Church Orders.

Thank you for your patience, I’m looking forward to reading your answer

ACS: First of all, let me thank you for your interest.

I am sure you have already taken account of Const app. 8.33.

The Syntagma and Fides patrum are translated in On the two ways. This is far, however, from being the last word on these texts. Mercifully this work is easy to obtain; it is available on amazon for 10 Euro.

The book on the Gnomai has not yet been published. I am waiting on the publisher who is, they inform me, waiting on the Library of Congress. There is nothing here about slaves; this, in itself, is interesting since the work is addressed to a wealthy elite who are being encouraged in charity. This is a class likely to own slaves (though I am aware that the incidence of slave-owning in Egypt is lower than elsewhere) and so one has to ask whether, in this part of Egypt and at this time (mid-fourth century) the practice had been abandoned among Christians at least.

The book on Apostolic church order is a problem. This is sad because I count it my best work! It went out of print almost immediately and is now very rare. I do not know why they don’t do a print on demand… apparently, however, it is available on a cd rom from

I am sorry not to be able to be more helpful. I would say, however, that I find your research topic very interesting and would be very glad to be kept informed of your progress. I would also be glad to enter any discussion on this topic that you propose.

DV: Good Morning and thank you very much for that quick answer and the invitation to discuss the topic. It’s an honor to being able to discuss with you the subject, and the Church Orders are so ominous, there’s plenty of stuff to discuss.

I know of Const. Apost. 8.33. I’m not sure though whether we can read “douloi” there in its literal meaning. The day off should count for everybody of course, and not only for slaves, and therefore I tend to read slaves in its metaphorical meaning as slaves of God (which would nevertheless include de facto slaves). But that’s just a suspicion, I haven’t worked on the passage comprehensively.

Besides, Const. Apost. is full of prescriptions on slaves and slave-owners, consciously expanding the sources it used by admonitions to treat slaves well, to love them as brothers etc. It seems, that Christian slaveowners in the late 4th century were even more cruel to their slaves than their 2nd to 3rd century predecessors and the compilator needed to stress mild treatment, or that in post-constantinian times more pagans converted to Christianity which needed to be rhetorically convinced of this “strange” ethics. These are all only suspicions, again.

One of the interesting expansions is concerning the impure offerings, adapted from Syr.Didasc. §18. I don’t know how the Syriac texts really is, but judging from the modern translations, it simply excludes slave-owners who don’t provision their slaves well. Apost. Const. includes a subordinate clause “speaking of beatings, hunger and kakodoulia, a term I cannot reasonably translate. Again, interesting that the author needs to explain the sentence of the Syriac Didascalia. That’s why I was so happy when I found your comment on adaptions of that passage in Syntagma and Fides Patrum. Apparantly these authors adapted the Const.Apost. passage (to my understanding more plausible than that they adapted Syr.Didasc) and again changed it fully consciously, Syntagma leaving it out, Fides Patrum explaining it again in other terms (feed and clothe). I’d wonder how you would account for such adaptions.

Sadly the Apostolic Church Order doesn’t include any prescriptions for slaves or slaveowners, as far as I know, but it’s an interesting text anyway and I’d really like to read your introduction to it to get a clearer picture of it.

To make sure: does your work on Gnomai not include the passage cited on Didascalia, p. 47 of the Coptic version Fides Patrum, which was previously used by Revillout in his collection on the Council of Nicaea? Clearly I don’t have a picture yet of what the Fides Patrum is really about. Is it a “Church Order”, too?

Again, thank you very much for your patience and your helpful answers

ACS: OK, to begin at the end! The Fides patrum is a version of the same material as Syntagma doctrinae, beginning, however, with a version of the Nicene creed with anathemas. It is, as you rightly say, preserved also in Coptic and published by Revillout in his collection. I think there is an Ethiopic version as well, though this may be of the Syntagma (I struggle to remember which is which!) Now the conclusion of the Greek Fides is wanting. I will have to look again to remind myself regarding the Ethiopic, so this will be the subject of a separate post. (I subsequently learn from my own blog(!) that the Ethiopic Fides patrum lacks the conclusion re offerings found in the Coptic.) The Coptic Fides however preserves the conclusion, so it is probable that the absence of the conclusion in Greek is a matter of accident (the last page being wanting from the scribe’s exemplar.) Thus we may assume that Fides and Syntagma had similar conclusions. Whether Fides patrum is a church order depends, of course, on the definition of church orders. Certainly there was no genre as such; Joe Mueller calls it a tradition, and although I disagree with him about the nature of the tradition I think he is right to call it so. Both the Syntagma and the Fides contain material found in other church orders, so they are members of the tradition, even if they are fundamentally monastic rules.

I don’t deal with the Fides in my work on the gnomai because I believe that they are entirely separate works, though transmitted together in the Coptic tradition through the collection of the Nicene documents, and also, I believe, arising within the same Athanasian circles. I make brief use of it in On the two ways.

So let us turn to the parallel material of CA and DA 4.6. There are parallels in both the Syntagma and in the Fides, though in the case of the latter it is preserved only in Coptic (reserving judgement on any other version.)

CA is, we know, an adaptation of DA. Thus it explains or expands the material found in DA. Next question is “Where did FP/SD get the material from?”

It is possible that they got it straight from CA as you suggest, though we are up against it date-wise given the uncertainty of dating any of these documents. It is not more plausible than the possibility that they got it straight from DA, given that the Greek original circulated in Egypt and was the subject of a Coptic translation (of which only a fragment remains.) Indeed, it is less plausible.

My own opinion, however, is that neither was the source. If you look at the context DA is an expansion of instruction to a bishop. How much is original and how much redactional is a matter of debate. It would seem to me reasonable, however, to suggest that 6.4 in nuce at least is part of the original material, since it deals with the fundamental episcopal duty. Is it not reasonable to suggest that the original instruction had circulated independently and was taken up in Egypt by the redactors of FP/SD?

What then becomes interesting is the absence of any mention of slaves or slave-owners in the version of SD, whereas they are found in FP. This in turn (if I am right in my argument that FP is dependent on SD) means that FP put this passage in. Next question is whether this was under the influence of DA/CA or an independent act of redaction on his part. It is difficult to know where to start with this, but even if it is influenced by DA/CA then there must have been some relevance of the topic to the redactor as to make him insert it. What were the local conditions? Although there was clearly less slavery in Egypt than elsewhere in the Empire, the phenomenon was still met.

I was aware of 8.33 because of its importance regarding Sabbath.

Preliminary bibliography (not counting my own work or Ethiopic versions)

P. Battifol, Syntagma doctrinae (Studia patristica 2; Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1890) (available online through

P. Battifol, Didascalia CCCXVIII patrum (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1887) (the Fides patrum)

Plus, of course, Revillout

DV: Your statement on the redactional layer in the passage about episcopal instruction is intriguing, although I have problems to see where you would draw the line between original material and redactional work. If you considered the list of forbidden “professions” as the only expansion by the redactor, you could reasonably draw the link to TA 16 with its list of forbidden professions. But yet, these two texts, with all similarities that they have, are quite different, especially regarding the order of the list (and omissions, of course, too). I have a hard time thinking that two redactors (DA, TA) use the same source (or tradition) and include it in different contexts and still change it so considerably.

ACS: OK we will start by putting TA 16 out of the picture altogether. It is interesting, but not relevant (unless, conceivably, a list originally intended for catechumens [the context in TA] has been refitted elsewhere only to turn up in DA/CA/FP/SD, though this would be impossible to prove, and would not much enlighten us in any event.) It is true that I mention this in a footnote, but that is just a cf. for general interest rather than an explicit claim of a direct relationship.

So putting aside TA altogether, let us look at DA 4.6, so that you can see how I draw redactional lines within DA.

The text has been discussing the maintenance of orphans and their training; then it goes on to discuss the issue of how much a bishop may keep back from what he receives for his own maintenance (not the only point at which it is discussed, which indicates what a burning issue this was).

Anyone who can assist himself without disturbing the place of the orphan, the stranger or the widow is truly blessed, as this is a gift from God. 2But woe to those who have, yet falsely receive, or who are able to assist themselves but receive anyway. Anyone who receives will have to give an account to the Lord God regarding what they received on the day of judgement. 3If anyone receives on account of an orphaned childhood, or poverty in old age, or sickness or weakness or for bringing up a large number of children, he shall indeed be praised, considered as the altar of God and honoured of God, because he did not receive in vain since he diligently and frequently prayed for those who gave to him, as far as he was able, and this prayer he offered as his payment. These shall so be declared blessed by God in everlasting life. [4.4] Yet those who have, and yet receive under pretence, or otherwise are idle, and so receive rather than working as they should and assisting themselves and others, shall give an account as they have reduced the place of the impoverished faithful. 2Or anyone who has possessions and does not use them himself, nor helps others, is laying up perishable treasure for himself on earth. He is in the position of the snake lying upon the treasure and is in danger of being reckoned alongside it. 3Whoever possesses, and yet receives in falsehood, is not trusting in God but in wicked mammon. On account of wealth he is keeping the word hypocritically and is fulfilled in unbelief. Anyone who is like this is in danger of being reckoned with the unbelievers in condemnation. 4But anyone who simply gives to all does well, and is innocent. Whoever receives on account of distress and uses what he receives sparingly receives well, and will be glorified by God in everlasting life.

Then there is a summary, concluding with a doxology.

[4.5] Be constant, you bishops and deacons, in the ministry of the altar of Christ, that is to say the widows and the orphans, with all care, diligently endeavouring to find out with regard to gifts, the conduct of him who gives, or her who gives, for the support of, 2we say again, the altar. When widows are nourished by the labour of righteousness they will offer a ministry which is holy and acceptable before almighty God, through his beloved Son and his Holy Spirit. To him be glory and honour for ever and ever.

Then the subject picks up all over again; this is where the list is found:

3You should be working hard and diligently in ministering to the widows with a righteous mind, so that whatever they ask or request may speedily be given them, as they make their prayers. 4But if there should be bishops who are uncaring, and inattentive to these matters, through respect of persons, or through impure profit, or through failure to make enquiry, the account that they shall give shall be no ordinary one. [4.6] For what they are receiving for ministry to orphans and widows is from the rich, who have men locked in prison, from the wicked who make poor provision for their slaves, or act with cruelty in their cities, or oppress the poor, 2or from the impure, who abuse their bodies with wickedness, or from evildoers, or from fraudsters, or from lawless advocates, or from those who accuse falsely, or from hypocritical lawyers, 3or from painters of pictures or from makers of idols, or from workers of gold or silver or bronze who steal, or from corrupt tax-gatherers, or from those who watch the shows, or from those who alter weights, or from those who measure deceitfully, or from innkeepers who water (drinks), 4or from soldiers who act lawlessly, from spies who obtain convictions, or from Roman authorities, who are defiled by wars and who have shed innocent blood without trial, and from pervertors of judgement who deal corruptly and deceitfully with the peasantry and all the poor in order to rob them, 5or from idolaters, or from the unclean or from usurers and extortionists. 6Those who nourish widows from these will be found guilty when judged on the day of the Lord, since Scripture says: ‘Better a meal of herbs with love and compassion than the slaughter of fattened oxen with hatred.’ 7Should a widow be nourished solely by bread from the labour of righteousness this will be plenty for her, but if much be given her from iniquity it will not be enough for her. 8Moreover, if she is nourished from iniquity she will be unable to offer her ministry and her intercession before God in purity. Even if, being righteous, she prays for the wicked, her intercession for them will not be heard, but only that for herself, in that God tests their hearts in judgement and receives intercessions with discernment. 9Yet if they pray for those who have sinned and repented their prayers will be heard. But when those who are in sin and are not repentant pray before God, not only are their prayers not heard, but their transgressions are brought to God’s memory.

Finding redactional themes is more an art than a science, but I think that we can discern a distinct instruction here that the redactor has inserted. That is why the subject, having been concluded, starts up again. But what follows, with the heading, is also interesting:

That those bishops who accept alms from the culpable are guilty. [4.7] And so, bishops, flee and shun such administrations as these. For it is written: ‘The price of a dog or the wages of a prostitute shall not go up upon the altar of the Lord.’ 2For if, through your blindness, widows are praying for fornicators and for those who transgress the law and are not being heard as their requests are not granted, you will be bringing blasphemy upon the word as the result of your wicked management, as though God were not good and generous.

3Thus you should be very careful that you do not minister the altar of God from the ministrations of those who transgress the law. You have no excuse in saying ‘We do not know’, as you have heard what Scripture says: ‘Shun any wicked man and you shall not be afraid; and trembling shall not approach you.’ [4.8] And if you say: ‘These are the only people who give alms; and if we do not accept from them, from shall we minister to the orphans and the widows and those in distress?’ God says to you: ‘On this account you received the gifts of the Levites, the firstfruits and the offerings of your people, that you might be nourished and, having more than this, that you should not be obliged to accept from wicked people. 2But if the churches are so poor that those in need should be nourished by people like this, it is better that you be laid waste by hunger than receive from those who are wicked. 3Thus you should be making investigation and examination so that you receive from the faithful, those who are in communion with the church, and conduct themselves properly, in order to nourish those who are in distress, and do not receive from those who have been expelled from the church until they are worthy of becoming members of the church.

4If, however, you are in want, speak to the brothers so that they may labour together and give, so supplying out of righteousness. [4.9] You should be teaching your people, saying what is written: ‘Honour the Lord from your just labour and from the first of all your harvests.’ 2And so from the just labour of the faithful shall you clothe and nourish those who are in want. And, as we said above, distribute from what is given by them for ransoming the faithful, for the redemption of slaves, captives and prisoners, and those treated with violence, and those condemned by the mob, and those condemned to fight with beasts, or to the mines, or to exile, or condemned to the games, and to those in distress. And the deacons should go in to those who are constrained, and visit every one of them, and distribute to them with whatever each is lacking.

[4.10] But if ever you should be obliged to accept, against your will, some coins from somebody who is wicked, do not spend them on food but, if a small amount, spend it on firewood for yourselves and for the widows, so that a widow should not receive them and be obliged to buy food for herself with them. 2And so the widows shall not be defiled with evil when they pray and receive from God the good things for which they ask and which they seek, whether all together or individually, and you will not be bound by these sins.

I think that what we hear here is the voice, once again, of the redactor, and that what we are hearing from him is the disconnect between the reality of his situation and the ideal.

DV: I can clearly follow your argument and understand now how you discern between different redactional levels. It is very interesting to read the texts in that way.

ACS: In that case you can hopefully you can see the basis on which I suggest that a source has been incorporated. The fact that it re-appears elsewhere without its surrounding material in turn supports the supposition that the redactor of DA has included material which is independently employed in the Egyptian documents.

DV: I’d agree with you that DA, CA, SD and FP share a common source (or FP takes it from SD, I can’t judge) and we would only have to account for the changes within these texts.

Here I would be very cautious not to speculate about reasons why these changes happened. I doubt we can know for sure. It’s intriguing enough that an author decided to include a remark on slaveowners, and another didn’t.

ACS: OK, so we agree that there is an independent common source here.

DV: Let me reply to your statement about “disconnect between reality and ideal”.

I think that we are here at a crucial point in interpreting the church order literature (or genre, or tradition…). but this is not only the case for the 2nd redactor, but also for the 1st! The first redactor already depicts a conflict between ideal and reality, which the 2nd redactor only repeats. I compare this to, for example, 1 Corinthians, in which Paul criticizes the behavior at the Lords’ Supper. But his narrative is polemical, so it’s probably not reality as such, but polemically exaggerated. Maybe only a few Corinthians misbehaved. But what Paul suggests is not reality neither, it’s ideal, utopia. This is a fundamental difficulty in interpreting normative texts, be it apostolic letters, roman law, or Church Order Literature.

The 1st redactor already criticizes the offerings of sinners and the behavior of bishops, he already encounters that disconnect between reality and ideal. The 2nd redactor, then, repeats the same topic. Does this repetition show us that the exhortation of the 1st version of DA (or its original source) was unsuccessful? And is it not the 2nd redactor, then, that includes the loophole “about accepting “a few coins” for firewood”

I have a hard time imagining how a Bishop should be obliged to accept an offering against his will, anyway. But is this an indicator that there were essential “disconnects between reality and ideal”, between the pressure exerted by the rich Christians in the communities and the rule proposed in DA 4.6-10?

ACS: Although sometimes frustrated at having to pursue scholarship whilst responsible for a pastoral ministry, there are times when it is useful. I know, from experience, how a bishop (read, here parish priest) in a moment of weakness can accept an offering against his own will (or better judgement) in order not to give undue offence. However, you are fundamentally absolutely correct; the issue is an ongoing one, not restricted to any particular period in the development of DA. Moreover, not only is there, as you say, always a disconnect, but in the case of the church order literature there is not only a disconnect between the ideal and the reality, but there is a disconnect, very likely, between the reality described (which is really being prescribed) and the real reality!

DV: I think of the implications of that remark: a bishop who knew of a “violent” slaveowner was supposed to exclude him from the community until he was repentant. this is revolutionary. The New Testament and Church Fathers agree on mild treatment of slaves, but it never goes beyond an admonishment, no one speaks of an exclusion or excommunication. Why such a rigorous demand?

CA 4.6. speaks – as far as I can judge – more than DA of pure/impure matters. The offerings of such sinners are considered impure and “pollute” the Christian community. but again, I know of no other text that defines violent treatment of slaves as impure.

The biggest issue I have with chapter 18 of DA: if you and Schöllgen are right, it’s a chapter especially to strengthen the authority of the clergy against the rich laymen in the community, which act as patrons and sponsors for the community. Bad behaviour is not to be accepted even if the patron is responsible for the subsistence of the clergy – the author specifies that you should rather die from hunger than take money from such sinners.

But I doubt that this was ever done. The church and the clergy was dependent on these people. Slaveowning and slave-beating was normal in antiquity, so I doubt that any bishop ever excluded a slaveowner for this. I cannot imagine that this demand was ever put into practice.

ACS: You may well be right in all you say here; the stakes are being raised. And that is why there is the point about accepting “a few coins” for firewood… I doubt many bishops had the balls to exclude a powerful slave-owner, but possibly some did, and the Didascalist is encouraging this. And this is not an issue of historical interest only. How many churches even now agonize over ethical investment policies?

DV: I have two more thoughts and hypotheses regarding the patronage, to which I’d gladly hear your feedback.

TA 25-29 concerning the meals show again respect to the patronage system, as you and Charles Bobertz have pointed out. It’s rich people that invite the community at home and probably combine a Christian liturgy meal (be it Eucharistic, or agape, or cena dominica) with a deipnon/symposion. I think that, since 1 Cor 11, it’s probable that Christian meals were adapted and integrated into existing meal practices, and therefore, that the spirit of equality, that was typical for the Jesus tradition and for Paul who stands in this tradition was lost. 1 Cor and TA (to some degree, DA as well, I think) show that the rich patrons acted as hosts for such communions, and its probable that they hosted these meals to accumulate honor and to pronounce their status.

ACS: OK, so far I would agree altogether (obviously!)

DV: Such meals were of course impossible without the work of slaves (which were used to symbolize status anyway).

ACS: Impossible?

DV: Thus I think that although slaves are rarely mentioned in the church orders, e.g. in TA 25-29, they were nevertheless omnipresent, acting as slaves for the community. Its a common assumption in research on Early Christianity that Christian meals were based on equality, but I think this is wrong, considering your research on patronage in church orders, and considering Christian paintings of meals (e.g. in Roman catacombs, paintings show many banquets with slaves serving (earliest 3rd century).

What was the role of slaves in Christian communions? the sources rarely mention slaves at all, but I think the most probable answer is that they fulfilled “servile” functions in the community, as serving meals and wine, as lighting the lamp (TA 25) , acting as doorkeepers (DA 12) and so on. It is mysterious then why such works were more and more transferred to the diacon (diacon=servant!).

ACS: But were they transferred? The doorkeeper of DA is a deacon, and so is the lamp-carrier of TA25.

In my Original bishops, though this section contains little original, I argue that the diakonos was from the beginning the bishop’s agent and assistant, in particular at the provision of meals and the duties attached thereto. We find diakonoi performing various ritual functions in civic sacrifice and so it seems likely that diakonoi performed these “servile” functions in early Christian banquets likewise. It is possible, of course, that some of them were slaves, but also not impossible that the episkopos was a slave as well, particularly in those Asian communities in which presbuteroi were prominent. (And slavery language is employed, btw, by Ignatius with reference to the entire community, of slavery to the bishop. Wonderful to think that the bishop might be a slave).

To get back to the point: what seems to have happened, in the adaptive adoption of the mores of antiquity which came about in the Christian movement, is that the servile role of diakonos was taken on as a form of honor, bestowing status within the community on those who acted such. The qualifications for diakonoi in I Timothy as in the Didache are such that these are more likely to be persons of relative wealth and status in the community; the same is likely true of the diakonoi of civic sacrifice. Sure equality was relative in early Christian communities, but the rhetoric was surely not completely empty. So are the banquet scenes (assuming that they are indeed real banquets [though if they are not they nonetheless need to be recognizable as reflecting some sort of known reality]) apparently depicting slaves maybe not rather depicting diakonoi?

DV: The earliest banquet scenes we know (Dunbabin, Roman Banquet, 2003 is pretty good) are 3rd century, so they don’t really give an answer to the question either way. The archeologists I contacted assured me that they are from an iconographical point of view slaves. But again, slaves and diacons might be the same…

ACS: I think the question might be turned around: as the role of the diakonos changes and churches become more centralized, did the originally diaconal roles get transferred to slaves? Does this explain why the discussion concerning the treatment of slaves becomes more explicit in the later sources?

DV: I fear you misunderstood me. What I intended to say was that these works, known to us as servile works by the pagan culture, were transferred to diacons in the Christian communities. I don’t want to suggest a change within Christianity from slave to Diacon, but from pagan-slave to Christian-Diacon.

ACS: OK. Sorry to get you wrong in this way.

DV: But still there is the question whether diacons fulfilling servile functions were slaves or as you suggest “persons of relative wealth and status” and whether “the originally diaconal roles get transferred to slaves”, “as the role of the diakonos changes and churches become more centralized”

First of all let me note that diacons perform servile works. They do more than that, of course. But their title (servant) and their assistance to the bishop indicate a rather servile function, which nevertheless bestows honor on them.

I double-checked your chapter on the Diacons in Original Bishops. Yes, 1 Timothy and Didache request that Diacons are of relative wealth and status, but again, this is not necessarily reality. Rather, I suggest, is this a demand by two authors that wanted to see the diaconal functions being fulfilled by householders. Again, I question whether this was the reality. Both sources are normative texts that have a certain purpose, not simply depicting the situation in the congregations.

ACS: Agreed. Again the disconnect!

DV: So I ask if we shouldn’t assume that Diacons were originally the helpers of an episkopos, who, as you state, is a householder-patron who presides over a community. As far as I know we know nothing about the election or appointment of diacons in the early communities. I suggest that the bishops had a certain influence of who would be made diacon, and I assume he would have preferred his own clients – probably freedmen – or slaves to assist him in the household-based congregations. As such these diacons would have continued to do the same tasks that they did in the normal course of life. Furthermore, the honor that the diaconate bestowed on them would also have enhanced the status of the patron.

ACS: A very interesting suggestion. Indeed, we may go further and suggest that the reason why Didache and PEs would prefer a diakonos of status is that this might dilute the patronal authority of the episkopos who otherwise would appoint his/her own slaves, freedmen or other clientela.

DV: I don’t want to suggest that diacons were always slaves. Maybe some were, some weren’t. But I’d be cautious with the interpretations of 1 Tim and Did. We have few evidence that slaves had an office in the community, most known Plin. Ep. X.96; but only in the 4th century we find more and more prohibitions (Synod of Elvira, Apostolic Constitutions) that limit offices to free Christians (even excluding freedmen from offices). Epistula I by Bishop Stephanus is disputed. Given the development of the Church in general and the developing restrictions for slaves-offices in Late Antiquity, I would suggest, that slaves were more prominent in the offices in early Christianity than in Late Antiquity. 1 Tim and Did might be testimonies of an opposition to that, but both sources are really inconclusive in my opinion.

Therefore, I doubt that diaconal roles got transferred to slaves. Rather, the aristocracy tried to limit offices to free Christians (avoiding conflicts between Christian slaves and pagan slave-owners, too).

ACS: This is very interesting, and you clearly know more about this than I do. Let me then ask you, out of ignorance rather than as a leading question, how do we tie up the exclusion of slaves from office to the manner in which you describe a stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners (at least in principle) in the Constantinian period? Would be be fair to say that the church moved from being an association to being (ideationally, if not in reality) a mirror of an ideal Christian Empire? I might also ask whether you think that these provisions were more successful in excluding slaves from office than prior attempts? And whether the exclusion of slaves from office might in some way relate to the ongoing issue over the power of patrons in Christian churches? And also what the connection is between this phenomenon (the exclusion of slaves from office) and the point you raised earlier regarding CA consciously expanding the sources it used by admonitions to treat slaves well (apart from any underlying reality… I am thinking of the intellectual world being constructed by the redactor)?

DV: That is a fine set of questions. Let me start with the first one about the connection between slave-exclusion from offices and stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners. I include your last question about the CA expanding its sources to treat slaves well. First of all, I’m not sure if we can talk of a “stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners (at least in principle) in the Constantinian period”. I do think that there are more admonitions to slave owners to treat slaves well, but they have to be relativized. Mostly they simply repeat earlier material like the NT-Haustafeln. They are mostly combined with admonitions to slaves to obey and love their masters. The passage in DA 18 = CA IV.12 is outstanding, but we have already talked about that. The exclusion of cruel slaveowners is not something there is any other reference to, so I doubt it was practiced very often, if at all.
The CA, in principle, does the same thing: in VII.13.2-3 it adopts the passage of Did 4.10, but also adds the admonition to slaves. In IV.12.1-4 it really expands its source, DA, but again with admonitions to masters and slaves. In VIII.32.19 it expands again, and this is the only time there is only a reference to masters. In general, CA confirm social hierarchy.
In late, post-constantinian, antiquity, there are a few exceptional texts like the 4th homily on Ecclesiastes by Gregory of Nissa. There is a tendency in the East towards better slave-treatment, but the results are very ambiguous (s. Klein 2000).
I think your suggestion “that the church moved from being an association to being (…) a mirror of an ideal Christian Empire” points somehow in that same direction. Being a Christian Empire, governed by Christian elites, the church stabilized the social hierarchies instead of fighting them. Nevertheless there were every so often preachers that reminded of the Christian doctrine of charity, of fraternalism and of the equality of all humanity. I don’t think though that they envisaged an alternative society, but rather they fought against excesses like DA 18 = CA IV.12 maybe did. Let me also note that this is in line with the Roman Law and even late antique philosophy, that both confirm the free-unfree distinction and still admonish against cruel treatment.

Were these provisions more successful in excluding slaves from office than prior attempts?”
Again, the results are very ambiguous, and sources are sparse. With CA VIII.47.82 and the Synod of Elvira, can. 80, we have two sources against slave offices in the 4th century, with more following in later centuries (s. Klein 1999, Jonkers 1942). But we also have some testimonies by Bishops that in general confirmed slaves in offices, against the charges made by their slave-owners (s. Hieron. Ep. 82.6; Basil. Ep. 115; Greg. Naz. Ep. 56). What can we deduce for sure? Against the regulations by Church Orders and Synods (maybe only provincial, in the West?), there were still appointments to offices to which at least some Bishops approved.
What else can we assume? An office in the Church required time, so in general was only possible with the approval of the slave-owner. It also required a certain financial independence (a slave’s property always being that of his master), so it was actually only possible after manumission. That is exactly what CA VIII.47.82 demands.
But apparently there were also cases in which slave and church agreed on an office without consent and knowledge of the slave-owner!

Klein, R. Die Haltung der kappadokischen Bischöfe Basilius von Caesarea, Gregor von Nazianz und Gregor von Nyssa zur Sklaverei. Stuttgart 2000.
Klein, R. „Die Bestellung von Sklaven zu Priestern. Ein rechtliches und soziales Problem in Spätantike und Frühmittelalter“, in: Ders., Roma versa per aevum. Ausgewählte Schriften zur heidnischen und christlichen Spätantike. Hildesheim 1999, 394-420.
Jonkers, E.J. „Das Verhalten der alten Kirche hinsichtlich der Ernennung zum Priester von Sklaven, Freigelassenen und Curiales“, in: Mnemosyne 10 (1942), 286-302.

ACS: Thank you for all of this. May I add to your bibliography Chris L de Wet, The Cappadocian fathers on slave management” Studia historiae ecclesiasticae 39 (2013) article available online as

I think, if I may draw a large conclusion from the evidence here, that the church orders reflect, more or less, the reality of the situation. The church accepts and adopts the norms of wider society to itself (though there are exceptions), reflects the Christian Empire, and this in turn is reflected in the literary church orders, and also in the persons who find themselves in office. When the church is associational it is more possible, in some quarters anyway, to find slaves in office, in the same way that some associations had slave officers. But this is something which the earlier church orders do not touch (apart, perhaps from Traditio apostolica, on which I shall post separately). In general, as you note, they are content to trot out the standard line.

To be continued (no doubt)


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Tattam’s Apostolical Constitutions online

I noticed today that that Henry Tattam, The apostolical constitutions or canons of the apostles in Coptic is available online. Best find it through google books rather than for reasons which will be explained presently.

Its sole interest nowadays is in the history of the scholarship on the church orders, but that interest is considerable, as it was the first published version of the work now known as Traditio apostolica, in Bohairic. It is joined to the Apostolic church order also in Bohairic, forming the first two books of the Clementine octateuch. Of interest also is Tattam’s introduction, in which he cites extensively from Vanslieb, Histoire de l’église d’Alexandrie (1677) which gives a description of the contents of Traditio apostolica together with Apostolic church order, describing them as canons of the Coptic church.

Tattam himself makes no pronouncement as to the relationship of this work to the Apostolic constitutions, giving this title to his work on the basis that it was that of his Coptic exemplar, nikanōn n’te nenioti ethouab n’apostolos. Obviously there was no recognition that here were two distinct church orders.

Of further interest in the history of scholarship, however, is that the online copy is that of C.A. Heurtley, which somehow ended up in California. This contains Heurtley’s marginal annotations, in which, among other things, he observes the similarity between the opening chapters and that which we would recognize as the epitome of the Apostolic church order. These, however, have been cut off in the version, whereas they are entirely legible courtesy of google books.

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Second edition of my commentary on Traditio apostolica

It’s out! I’ve picked up a copy at the Oxford conference… and it’s definitely thicker than the first edition.

I haven’t had a chance even to look inside it yet, and I don’t even know how much it costs (but surely good value, being from St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.)

Get yours here:

More later… it’s late at night and the conference is full-on!


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Great book coming out from Gorgias

I don’t mean the Gnomai!

A few years ago I came across a dissertation online providing a critical Georgian text (among other things) of the Hippolytean In Cant. I had long suspected that this commentary reflected mystagogy in the Hippolytean community, and was pleased to find that the author agreed with me.

I contacted Yancy Smith, the author, who now follows this blog, and suggested to him that the work should be published. There have been a few delays but he now tells me that the work will be coming out with Gorgias soon. It is to be called The mystery of anointing. It will probably cost an arm and a leg, but I will ask Santa nicely and promise to be a good boy. It will certainly be worth paying money for, I promise you.

The church-order connection lies in the light that the commentary casts on the multiple anointings in the baptismal rite of Traditio apostolica (on the assumption that this document, likewise, derives from the Hippolytean community.) But even if you are not convinced on this point (there are a few doubters, still!) there is a lot more in it than that. For a start, a usable modern translation for those of us who are Georgian-challenged!

Congratulations and thanks to the author, and to Gorgias for publishing. Respect all round!


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Hippolytus, the patristic conference, and Coptic in Stevenage…

The second edition of the Hippolytus commentary will, says the publisher, be out in time for the Oxford patristics conference (, though I have some editorial work to do.
Clearly thoughts are turning to Oxford as I have had several people enquiring as to whether I will be there. I will, and am even now struggling with writing my paper. More on this, perhaps, another time, In the meantime, however, there is a Coptic symposium in Stevenage ( Not much in the way of a church-order connection but I thought it worth flagging up; a number of papers deal with the realia of Egyptian church life in antiquity, so there is something of an overlap. Stevenage may lack the cachet of Oxford, but at £30 for two days it definitely offers better value for money!

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Paper on creeds on

Newly uploaded to is a forthcoming article in Questions liturgiques in which I build on previous work which suggested that the syntaxis was the earliest form of baptismal confession in Syria, by suggesting that Alexandria also had some form of creedal declaration as part of the baptismal rite from the earliest times.

This means that the common assertion, largely based on the baptismal rite of Traditio apostolica, that the earliest form of baptismal creed was interrogatory, and thus that any creedal declaration is of necessity later, falls apart. I suggest that the so-called “interrogatory” creeds are all western, and thus that Traditio apostolica reflects a western rite.

There’s more, but you can read it for yourselves!

Once again, naïve use of the church order material has proved misleading.

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Elements of the Didascalia and the Didache in the Ethiopic versions of Traditio apostolica

One of the many peculiarities of the Ethiopic transmission of Traditio apostolica in the senodos is the inclusion within it of the apostolic decree from Acts (possibly derived from the Didache), certain provisions from the Didache (chiefly those regarding prophets and travellers, so Didache 11.3-13.7, together with Didache 8.1-2) and a short section of the Didascalia, basically most of the twelfth chapter of the Syriac version (2.57-2.58.6). Because of the disorder in this text this material appears in the middle. What is interesting is that in the new Aksumite Ethiopic text published by Bausi, the same material is found; here it is found towards the end of Traditio apostolica, following on from the directions regarding the cemeteries, and followed only by the brief concluding chapter.

I have been curious about this for some time. Now Jonathan Draper in his “Performing the cosmic mystery of the church in the communities of the Didache“, newly published in Jonathan Knight and Kevin Sullivan (ed.), The open mind: essays in honour of Christopher Rowland (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 37-57 at 45-6, suggests that the appearance of this section in the Ethiopic transmission (I think he is referring to the senodos, though he is a bit vague), and also in the Coptic version (though we should note that the Coptic version is a fragment, rather than an anthology, and begins at 10.6), is “highly significant, indicating that prophets and rules for their control were still relevant or even burning issues.” He suggests that this catena of texts was brought to Ethiopia by Asian monks in the third century, and that they had brought this catena of texts as it “reflected the nature of the mission of the monks to Ethiopia.” He suggests that these monks, moreover, were sympathetic to the new prophecy.

The Coptic version, being a fragment, may be left entirely out of consideration here. This leaves the substantive question of whether the text as currently preserved was brought as is, from Asia or elsewhere, or was excerpted within Ethiopia, or Egypt.

If Draper is correct, one would have to account not only for the material regarding prophecy being excerpted, but also for the eighth chapter, and also for inclusion of the fragment of the Didascalia, not to mention the apostolic decree. This does not seem to be explainable by recourse to the interests of pro-Montanist monastic missionaries (alluring alliteration). Then again, there is no obvious reason why the selection currently found should have been produced within Ethiopian Christianity; even if there was a need within Ethiopia for the regulation of prophets, this hardly explains the selection of the rest of the material, nor its inclusion within Traditio apostolica.

If the Aksumite text is indeed derived directly from Greek, as is most probable, then this in turn implies that the other material was also rendered directly from Greek (thus making the Ethiopic texts more important witnesses for the text of the Didascalia than previously realized). It also implies that the selection might have been made not in Ethiopia but in Alexandria, at an earlier stage in transmission. The question of the purpose of its anthologizing and inclusion among the other church order texts thus remains unanswered, though I am glad that Draper has drawn attention to the issue.


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Making a mess of martyrs and the mass

I have just found Maxwell E. Johnson, “Martyrs and the mass: the interpolation of the narrative of institution into the anaphora” Worship 87 (2013), 2-22.

Johnson argues, principally on the basis of the prayer of Polycarp at his martyrdom, that the interpolation of an institution narrative in the anaphora resulted from martyrological prayer. The received answer that the inclusion of the narrative is catechetical in origin is accepted, and the point argued is that this catechesis, in the fourth century (the date to which Johnson would assign the interpolation of the institution narrative, including into the Apostolic tradition, a connection which gives me an excuse to blog this private rant here) was necessary to remind those for whom martyrdom was never a real experience of the sacrifice of Christ. “What better way to strongly emphasize and make clear [and to split infinitives ACS] this connection than to have the very words of Christ within the central prayer of the Eucharist itself?”(p. 19) Actually there are quite a few better ways, particularly since, in the fourth century, the martyria are themselves becoming the location of shrines, and we are soon into the period of the translation of relics.

I do not have the patience to deliver a full critique at this point. Sufficient to say that Johnson’s statement that the prayer of Polycarp at his martyrdom reflected a regular third-century Eucharistic prayer is to confuse the diverse roots of Eucharistic praying, and moreover to confuse distinct species of Eucharistic meal, one of which seeks communion with Christ through communion with a martyr, the other of which seeks direct communion with Christ. There is no doubt that there is some martyrological influence in the emergence of the eucharist in the third/fourth century, but it is not to be located in the inclusion of the institution narrative within the anaphora, and especially not conveyed through catechesis.

I have already dealt with much of this material in my contribution to Frances Young’s Festschrift and in my edition of Vita Polycarpi. I argue in the first for the inclusion of an institution narrative in the original stratum of the episcopal Eucharistic prayer of Traditio apostolica and treat the Eucharistic prayer of Polycarp in the latter. Johnson does not make reference to either. Of course, he is far too important to bother with the work of a poore parson of a town, but had he done so he might have been saved from some methodological clangers.

The last time I got seriously peeved by Johnson, the result was published in Questions liturgiques. If I get time I will see if I can knock out a more coherent and reasoned response fit for more conventional publication.

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Apostolic Tradition 21.39-40, the white stone, and a matter of balancing the Coptic against the Aksumite Ethiopic

Over on I find, over a year later, a discussion of Apostolic tradition 21.39-40; the hyperlinked post is the first of three.

The Sahidic of Apostolic Tradition reads: “We have handed over to you in brief these things about holy baptism and the holy offering, since you have already been instructed about the resurrection of the flesh and the other things according to the Scriptures. Now (δέ) if anything else should be said, the bishop shall say it privately…” There is a significantly different reading in the Aksumite Ethiopic, an understanding which may well stand behind the version offered by the Testament of the Lord. This text reads: “It is therefore convenient to be given this in brief on the washing and on the offering because they have already been instructed. But about the resurrection of the body and everything else in accordance [with the Scriptures] the bishop will reveal and explain as is convenient when they are initiated.” Testament of the Lord is slightly confusing, but the confusion may come about through attempting to make sense of a reading like that of the Aksumite: “They should also be taught about the resurrection of bodies; before being baptized nobody should know the word concerning the resurrection.” Andrew Criddle, for whom I have the utmost respect, believes that the Aksumite reflects a more accurate rendition of the original, given the potential support of Testamentum Domini, and locates the precise matter regarding the resurrection, which is to be held secret, in the teaching regarding the harrowing of hell which is found in Testamentum Domini presented as mystagogy.

I’m afraid that on this occasion I cannot agree. It is as likely that this particular mystagogy is a peculiarity of the Testamentum. The Aksumite Ethiopic may be derived from a Greek text very similar to the Coptic. To demonstrate the point I attempt a retroversion of the relevant phrase(s) without punctuation (and with apologies for the horrible appearance of the Greek): … περὶ τοῦ λουτροῦ καὶ τῆς προσφορᾶς ἐπειδὴ ἤδη κατήχησθε (or ηνται following Ethiopic) περὶ τῆς τῆς σαρκὸς ἀναστασέως καὶ τὰ λοιπά κατὰ τᾶς γραφάς… Now if a full stop or colon is placed after the verb κατήχησθε the meaning is as the Ethiopic (though admittedly the style would be improved with a δέ after the περί), whereas should the full stop or colon be placed after τᾶς γραφάς then the meaning is as the Coptic. It is quite possible that the redactor of the Testamentum Domini (mis)read the text in the same way as the Ethiopic scribe.

I treat the point in the second edition of my Apostolic tradition (now languishing forgotten at the Press) but since the discussion had already entered the blogosphere I thought it worth labouring here at rather greater length than I do in the book.

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Progress report

I have now received a scan of one of the two pages at the end of the Turin codex containing the Gnomai of Nicaea. Although it is largely lacunose and, due to the darkness of the papyrus, even what is extant is largely illegible from a photograph, I can at least rest assured that this is not a missing page of gnomai simply because it is written in two columns, whereas the rest of the gnomai are in one. Unfortunately, due to an error, only one of the two pages was sent; the other page which was sent was a duplicate of one I had already received. I have pointed this out and wait… again!

In the meantime, and more positively, the introduction and main text of my second edition of Traditio apostolica has gone into the editorial process. I need only now to check the appendix (containing the Hippolytean homily on the Psalms, as before) and recast the indices. My aim was to have this done by Pentecost, so I may well be on schedule.

A publication date is in the hands of the Press, but I do not anticipate that it will be long delayed. Unlike the Gnomai…


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Apostolic Tradition on military catechumens

In the Sahidic version of Apostolic Tradition 16 (the Latin being wanting) it is said of a soldier seeking baptism that he shall not “go to the task” if he is ordered, nor swear the oath. The meaning is obscure. The Aksumite Ethiopic, however, is clear that a soldier is not to offer sacrifice, not to swear the oath, and not to wear a wreath. The Canons of Hippolytus likewise reflect the prohibition of swearing and wearing of the wreath. We may thus reasonably believe that the new Ethiopic version retains the closest reflection of the original. “Not to go to the task” may be some corrupted version of the words regarding sacrifice, though I am at a loss to suggest precisely what.

The particular reason for drawing attention to this is an essay by Yoder on military service in the church orders, found at, in which Yoder deduces on the basis of this section of Apostolic Tradition that the principal objection to military service was not the issue of the close relationship with the cultus of the emperor, as is often held. He appears to be using a translation based on the Sahidic, though I am a bit confused as to which, as he makes reference to the Latin (which is not extant for this passage!) However, the Aksumite Ethiopic seems to shift the balance somewhat.

There are a number of significant flaws in Yoder’s use of the church order material in his essay, on which I will not expatiate. It is interesting, as he himself notes, that an ethicist might find material in these documents; ethicists, however, should be as cautious in their use as liturgiologists have, in recent years, learnt to be. Which is not to say that they should not use the material, simply that they should handle it with care.

Edit: August 2022. I find that the link is broken. Apologies, as I cannot find another version, though I will keep looking.

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Second edition of the Apostolic Tradition

I’m pleased to announce that St Vladimir’s Seminary Press have agreed to the publication of a second edition of my Apostolic Tradition. It should appear later this year.

My overall approach to the text, as a redactional construction from within Rome and from within the Hippolytean school, reflecting the changes in the school within the latter years of the second century and the first quarter or so of the third, has not changed. Nonetheless this is quite a major revision. Some errors are corrected, and responses to the commentary of Bradshaw et al. are incorporated. More significantly, I have been forced by Bradshaw and his colleagues to refine my approach to the redactional layering, particularly in the section regarding baptism. I have also had to rethink my approach to some of the material regarding ordinations in the light of my own work, the fruits of which are to be found in my The original bishops, to be published soon by Baker Academic.

Most importantly, however, the edition incorporates insights from the massively significant Aksumite Ethiopic text discovered by Bausi and published by him as “La nuova versione etiopica della Traditio apostolica: edizione e traduzione preliminare“ in Paola Buzi and Alberto Camplani (edd.), Christianity in Egypt: literary production and intellectual trends. Studies in honor of Tito Orlandi (Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 2011), 19-69. To give two examples of the massive significance of this text, we may observe that the extended creedal questioning found in the Latin version is also found in the Aksumite Ethiopic, indicating its originality (as I argued in the commentary and again, contra Johnson, in “The baptismal creed in Traditio apostolica: original or expanded?” Questions liturgiques 90 (2009), 199-213) whereas the Aksumite Ethiopic supports the oriental versions against the Latin in the prayer accompanying the second post-baptismal anointing.

Updates will be given on progress.


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